In the city of Ichikawa in Chiba prefecture, New Komeito's predecessor, the Komeito party, successfully lobbied for a child subsidy in the municipal assembly, the first of its kind in the nation, in 1967. Since then, the party has consistently backed entitlements for pre- and school-aged children, initiatives that became central to the coalition government comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito from 1999 to 2009. In 1999, for example, 2.4 million dependents were eligible for state support, a figure that soared to more than 13 million by 2007. Such subsidies remain a hallmark initiative for New Komeito due to its strategic significance. A major reason cited by married couples for not having children, which has led to a precipitous decline in the national birthrate, is the high cost of raising a family. The birthrate decline also threatens the sustainability of the national pension program.
Subsidizing Pre-School Children
Under a New Komeito initiative, the government's subsidy paid to a family's first and second child under the age of three doubled in 2007, to 10,000 yen a month. The subsidy owes its roots to a program that New Komeito's predecessor, the Komeito Party, developed and adopted at the local government level in 1967, and under the extensive lobbying of Komeito lawmakers at the time, implemented as a nationwide program in 1972. Since New Komeito joined the coalition government in 1999, the number of children receiving the entitlement has soared more than five-fold in the seven-year period, to 1.3 million. The program remains a key policy initiative for New Komeito due to its strategic significance in reversing not only Japan's declining birthrate but the national pension program's eroding subscriber base as well. A major reason cited by married couples for not having children is the high financial burden of raising a family.
Supporting Elementary School Children
New Komeito raised both the eligibility age—from eight to ten—of a state subsidy for primary school children, as well as the income ceiling for families entitled to the subsidy, from 7.8 million yen to 8.6 million yen per year for company employees (the ceiling for business owners is slightly lower) in fiscal 2006. More than 13 million children are thus covered under the program, an increase of some 4 million from 2005. From April 2008, moreover, families will see the premium of healthcare insurance for elementary school children reduced to 20 percent from 30 percent now.
Raising Childbirth Allowance
A one-time government allowance paid to families with newborn children was increased from 300,000 yen to 350,000 yen in October 2006. The initiative, which New Komeito was the primary architect, aims to offset medical expenses incurred from childbirth and reduce the financial constraints placed on married couples seeking additional children.
Increasing Daycare Capacity
New Komeito also lobbied strongly for a state subsidy, approved since fiscal 2006, paid to private daycare operators to address a serious shortfall in enrollment capacity. More than a million children have been placed on waiting lists to enroll in daycare facilities. The subsidy is believed to have created additional capacity to enroll 45,000 children. The range of daycare services was also enhanced, including special pediatric outpatient care by registered nurses.
Under a program launched under New Komeito's leadership, professional childcare counselors visit parents, particularly young mothers, at home to offer advice on raising babies up to the age of four months. The program aims to prevent and reverse the growing number of child abuse and abandonment cases in Japan. Our party's regular discussions with women constituents and support groups across the nation have also helped realize such initiatives as a pediatric hotline (Japan now suffers from a growing pediatrician shortage), and state certified daycare centers where children up to the age of five can be enrolled on a temporary basis eight hours a day, regardless of reason.
Dispensing Free Textbooks
Japan in the 1950s was far removed from what is today, with millions of citizens mired in desperate economic straits. While children were constitutionally entitled to a free education up to junior high school, many families were too poor to buy the textbooks used in school. One of the first and signature moves made by the Political Federation for Clean Government, the forerunner to the Komeito and New Komeito parties, was to provide all children, without regard to income, with textbooks without charge. Spearheading this effort was Yasu Kashiwabara, a member of the federation elected to the House of Councilors, who began lobbying for a free textbook program from 1959. Her perseverance would pay off four years later, when textbooks for first-year elementary school children were dispensed for free. By 1969, with the Komeito party carrying the torch, the program was expanded to include all students receiving a mandatory education and hailed as "a landmark move in the annals of Japanese education."