Press Conference by Prime Minister Kishida
March 17, 2023
Today, I wish to address you on our fundamental approach to our policies for children and child-rearing.
Ever since I took office as prime minister, I have been stating that Japan is at a historic turning point and that the best way to overcome this is investments in people. As we enter an era of a shrinking population, in order for us to maintain our economic and social vitality, it is of the utmost importance for us to make investments in people by revitalizing consumption through structural wage increases, reskilling tailored to each individual and productivity increases, and bringing out the potential of all people, men and women alike.
Speaking of those important people in whom we will invest, the number of births in 2022 was 799,700, an all-time low. In only five years, that number has dropped by almost 200,000 people. When we enter the 2030s, Japan's population of young people will shrink rapidly, at a rate double that of the present. If this trend continues, Japan's socioeconomy will contract, and it will become difficult to maintain our social security system and our local communities. The six or seven years we have from now until we enter the 2030s will be our last chance to see if we can reverse the course of this trend towards having fewer and fewer children.
Children are the treasures of a nation. In facing this national crisis, we will change not only the content and scale of our policies but also the consciousness and the structure of society as a whole. We will materialize measures to counter the dwindling birthrate that are, in that regard, at a totally different level, as one of the paramount challenges for the Kishida administration.
What we now need are truly effective measures to stem this decline in births, and the most important thing of all is listening directly to the voices of mothers and fathers directly concerned, as well as the voices of other people having first-person experience in this area in communities and in workplaces. I myself have, in a number of locations, participated in dialogues on policies related to children and listened to a wide range of views from people concerned with this issue.
Currently, in line with the directions I gave, under Minister Ogura, we are already moving ahead in examining enhancements to our policies related to children so that a concrete first draft can be compiled by roughly the end of March. However, today, prior to this draft being completed, I would like to talk about the vision for society we will aim at, as I see it, and about the fundamental principles underlying our measures to counter the declining birth rate and our basic direction towards major issues.
What I aim to achieve is a society in which young people can, exactly as they please, get married, and, if they wish, have children and raise them without feeling stressed, and a society in which children, regardless of their environments or household circumstances, are equally valued and fostered and live their lives with smiles on their faces. I want to build a country brimming with the smiling faces of children. That is my aspiration.
People in their twenties and thirties are sometimes said to be in the "rush hour of life." A number of life events all take place during that time, from their studies to their entry into the workforce, childbirth, and child-rearing. Without an adequate current income or good prospects for the future, even if people want to get married or have children, they have no choice but to postpone those plans. In order to break through such circumstances and enable people to face their "rush hour of life" with confidence, what we need first of all are policies that increase young people's incomes, particularly by raising their wages.
Also, we must eliminate barriers that impede men and women alike as they try to balance career development with raising a child, as well as barriers that inhibit the use of various work styles. Factors rooted in Japan's social structure up to the present day and in people's consciousness also play a role in the declining birth rate. While we will of course enhance various individual policies in place, if we are to make the most out of those policies, we must also change society.
In Japanese there is a word to describe one parent providing essentially all of the childcare. We must build a society in which, within the family, we change the situation in which the burden of childcare is concentrated on women and have husbands and wives cooperate in raising their children, with workplaces cheering on such arrangements and communities as a whole also providing support.
No matter who people are or whether they are full-time workers, part-time workers, freelancers, self-employed, full-time homemakers, or still in school, and no matter what kind of relationship the parents have with each other, our policies to support child-rearing must provide support seamlessly and without discrimination. Among those policies, we will provide more tailor-made responses to households with multiple children, single-parent households, and families with children having disabilities.
The fundamental principles that underlie our measures aiming to bring about such a society are, first, increasing the income of the younger generation; second, changing both the structure and the consciousness of society as a whole; and third, seamlessly supporting all families raising children, in line with their life stage. I will talk about each of these in turn.
First, with regard to increasing the income of members of the younger generation, one factor in the background to the dwindling birth rate is an increase in the percentage of unmarried people, and we can cite the economic power of young people as one cause of that. Even among married families, the foremost reason for not having the number of children they desire is that child-rearing and education are expensive. To increase the income of young people, we will transcend the category of policies for child-rearing and engage with the issue as a major socio-economic policy.
One of the highest priorities of the Kishida administration is increasing wages. We will work to bring about wage increases that keep pace with rising prices. In order to enable wage increases to become both sustained and structural, we will create an environment where both men and women can work comfortably, including by eliminating [the dramatic drop in the percentage of women working as regular employees that begins in women's late twenties known as] the "L-shaped curve," and have non-regular employees become regular employees if they wish to do so. Moreover, we will accelerate the three-pronged set of labor market reforms, namely, providing support for improving skills through reskilling, establishing a system of job-based pay that is appropriate for Japan, and facilitating labor mobility into growth fields. Through these initiatives we will materialize increases in income for members of the younger generation.
When doing so, if there are people who hesitate to extend their working hours as much as they wish because of what are called "the barrier of 1.06 million yen" and "the barrier of 1.3 million yen," the result will be household incomes not increasing. To make it possible for people to work without being mindful of these barriers, we will endeavor to expand the eligibility for employee insurance to part-time workers and raise the minimum wage. In addition, with regard to "the barrier of 1.06 million yen" and "the barrier of 1.3 million yen," we will first of all introduce, among other initiatives, support for measures that do not trigger a decrease in take-home pay even after an employee newly surpasses the barrier of 1.06 million yen in income, and, in addition, undertake a review of the system itself.
Together with these measures, as the first pillar of the draft we will compile by roughly the end of March, we will strengthen our economic support for households raising children. We have until now promoted such improvements as making early childhood education and childcare effectively free. But, in light of the burden on families with many children, the educational burden of higher education, and other such circumstances, we will take comprehensive assistance measures that expand the childcare allowance, reduce the burden of higher education expenses, and also provide housing assistance to young families with children.
The second fundamental principle underlying our policies is changing both the structure and the consciousness of society. Now, with the birth rate dropping so far as to put the maintenance of social functions at risk, realizing a "children-first society" is a challenge to be addressed by society as a whole.
I intend to implement measures to counter the low birth rate that are at a totally different level from the policies we have had in place until now. We will work to change the structure and consciousness of society, with everyone participating, including companies, men, local communities, the elderly, and unmarried people, for whom this issue has not been seen as very relevant until now.
Sometimes we hear people raising children point out that Japan is unsympathetic to child-rearing. For example, we hear that in the West, public venues feature dedicated lanes for families with children, and when people see others out in the community with their children, it is common for them to lend a hand in various ways. In contrast, we often hear that in Japan, people bringing their children out in public feel guilt-ridden in crowded places, or that people worry of being told that the shouts of children playing in the park are a disturbance to the neighbors.
Meanwhile, the town of Nagi in Okayama Prefecture that I visited has achieved a "miracle community" with a birth rate of 2.95. It achieved this through the participation of people who have finished raising their own children and of elderly people in the local community, and through expanding their assistance for child-rearing in a form that has community-wide participation by residents. We will spread these good examples laterally to other communities and aim to make them widespread.
The Government will make our attainment of a "children-first society" a common objective across all manner of policies. Also, in order to develop various social movements, at national museums and other national facilities we will take the lead in establishing "children-first tracks" so that things go smoothly for people bringing their children while waiting in line at counters. We will implement measures that prioritize children by spreading this initiative nationwide.
Companies also need to regard support for childbirth and childcare as an investment and fundamentally change their workplace culture and atmosphere. We hear many employees say that their company has a system for childcare leave, but that in reality, it is hard for them to take such leave. It is said that many people cite reasons such as, taking childcare leave would impose upon their coworkers, or that their bosses or the people in charge of human resources aren't well-disposed to childcare leave requests. We must change these kinds of workplace environments immediately and make it possible for both men and women to use childcare leave as they please, without reservation.
Fortunately, there are many cases of companies ambitiously introducing new measures. For example, company A, a large corporation, transferred its head office functions to a local area. It uses its own particular system for childcare leave and shorter work hours, and its female employees have more than three times the number of children as the average for Tokyo. At Company B, a company in the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) category, the main reason that used to be given by male employees not taking childcare leave was that they don't want to inconvenience the workplace. To resolve that, the company has been promoting the taking of childcare leave by paying a support allowance to employees whose workloads increased from shouldering the responsibilities of those taking childcare leave.
To enable these kinds of measures to permeate widely in society, we will dramatically raise the Government's target for men taking childcare leave, which is currently stalled at a low level, to 50 percent for fiscal 2025 and 85 percent for fiscal 2030. To promote the attainment of these targets, we will move forward on having each company disclose what measures it is taking.
The biggest point lies with SMEs. Many employees at SMEs say they feel uneasy about imposing a burden on their workplaces, and in light of that, we will examine providing support to companies that establish a system for encouraging childcare leave, such as by providing support allowances to workers who shoulder extra responsibilities when other workers are on leave.
We will have national public servants take action ahead of the rest by setting a goal of having all eligible men take childcare leave. For fiscal 2025, we will draw up a plan to have no less than 85 percent of eligible men taking childcare leave of one week or longer and then transition it into implementation. We will also take advantage of various opportunities to request local governments and companies to institute ambitious measures even before the timing stated in the targets.
In tandem with creating workplaces such as these where it is easy to take childcare leave, we will also enhance the childcare leave system itself. Reflecting the views voiced by people using the system, we will make it possible to reconcile childcare leave and career development and build up the system to be one having a high degree of freedom that accommodates a wide variety of work styles. For example, at present, people receive childcare leave benefits if they completely stop working during the period of childcare, but we will revise this so that benefits can also be received in cases of people working shorter hours, should the applicant desire that.
In addition, we will raise the benefit rate to 100 percent of take-home pay when childcare leave is taken by both men and women during a certain period right after childbirth. By doing so, the parents will raise their child and share the housework as a couple, and we will be able to reduce the impact on their career development and on their incomes declining.
We must provide support to address the drop in income during childcare leave, regardless of the size of the parents' employers and regardless of whether the parents are regular or non-regular employees. Accordingly, for not only non-regular employees but also freelancers and the self-employed, we will newly institute economic support that corresponds to the risk of suffering a decline in income because of childcare leave.
Beyond the matter of childcare leave, an important issue is work styles while raising a child after returning to the workplace. To enable people to have time to spend together with their children during the period corresponding to the "rush hour of life," we need to change work styles, such as by using a flex time system that allows workers to return home by 5 PM, or teleworking.
In this way, by creating workplaces where it is easy to take childcare leave, strengthening the childcare leave system itself, and reforming work styles, we will, for the first time, address in earnest the matter of securing time for parents to spend with their children within the family during the "rush hour of life."
A considerable amount of time will be necessary for major reforms to the social structure. However, the problem of our decreasing birth rate is a race against the clock that doesn't allow for even a moment's delay. We will work to the very best of our ability on efforts to reform the consciousness of society overall, on promoting reforms to work styles, and on strengthening the system for childcare leave, which bolsters those endeavors.
The third fundamental principle underlying our measures is establishing a comprehensive institutional structure that supports all families raising children seamlessly. The LDP-Komeito coalition government has, until now, strengthened policies for children and child-rearing by preparing childcare facilities and by making early childhood education and childcare effectively free, among other initiatives. We dramatically increased the relevant budget and, as a result, attained such results as the number of children on childcare waiting lists declining from 29,000 at its peak to about 3,000 last year.
At the same time, the socioeconomic situation has changed substantially over the last decade, and the content of the policies we should undertake in the future is also evolving. In addition to expanding financial assistance and reforming the structure and consciousness of society as a whole, as I already outlined, what is necessary right now is providing the necessary support for all families raising children with regard to the content of our child-rearing support services, regardless of whether the parents are working or full-time homemakers, as well as strengthening early childhood education and childcare services, both quantitatively and qualitatively. We also need to build up our support during pregnancy and from birth up to age two, where support has not been very abundant until now, relatively speaking, while we also strengthen our "escort-runner-type" support, which can respond to various kinds of difficulties and worries for all families raising children all throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare. We must also further enhance our support for children in poverty, families with children who have disabilities or need medical care, and single-parent families.
In the draft to be compiled by the end of this month, we will review the system of support for child-rearing as a whole from these perspectives. For all children and families raising children, we must set out a menu of support service enhancements in concrete terms in order to establish a comprehensive institutional system providing necessary assistance in an all-encompassing and seamless manner, corresponding to the parents' work styles and lifestyle and their children's ages.
When doing so, the critical point will be transitioning to "escort-runner-type" support and “push-mode” support. Until now, the various items on our menu of support services have been provided on the basis of the recipients applying for them, but we will, to the greatest possible extent, switch this over to a form in which the government runs continuously alongside children and families as an escort or one in which the government approaches people needing assistance.
I have now spoken about how we will enhance our policies related to children and about our basic direction regarding the vision for society we aim to achieve, the fundamental principles underlying our measures, and major issues to address. We will consider these issues further and I will have Minister Ogura compile concrete draft proposals as a package by roughly the end of March.
Also, on April 1, the Agency for Children and Families will be launched, Japan's first ministry or agency ever to have the word "children" in its name. After that, under a structure which I will lead, we will further deepen our discussions on the specific kinds of policy strengthening that are necessary, on the budget, and on our fiscal resources, and by the release of the Basic Policies in June, we will lay out a general framework for doubling the future budget for child-related initiatives.
The other day, I heard this kind of story from a young woman. She said she wants to get married and have children, but since getting divorced is also possible in the future, when she thinks about such things as whether or not she would be able to raise a child by herself and wonders if she will be able to receive child-support payments reliably, she can't bring herself to get married. Her story made me realize very keenly that the times, and young people's sense of the world, are truly changing dramatically. As prime minister, while working to accurately grasp the changes of the times and the shift in young people's outlook, I will stand at the fore and do my utmost to take on the issue of the declining birth rate, which has become a race against the clock.
Japan has always placed value on different generations mutually helping and supporting each other. Now is the time for us to carve out the future of the younger generation and reverse the trend towards lower birth rates. This will also contribute to Japanese society as a whole, including our economic activities and social security. I wish to ask the Japanese people most emphatically for understanding and cooperation transcending generational lines.