It’s becoming harder and harder to live in Japan thanks to stagnant wages and rising prices. It’s one reason (among many) that people are opting out of having children. But it appears Japan’s major political parties are coalescing around one policy that might help: free lunch for public schoolchildren.
LDP, CDP, Nippon Ishin agree: feed the children
The move towards offering greater aid to parents has sped up at the local level this year. Tokyo recently announced that it would offer free medical care for all kids up to high school age. Several wards and cities in Tokyo have also said they’d offer free school lunches to elementary and middle school students. Tokyo’s governor, Koike Yuriko, has also discussed providing direct financial help to parents.
Not every municipality in Japan can afford to be so generous, however. As a result, some local leaders have called on the federal government to take up the financial burden.
In a rare movement crossing party lines, it looks like Japan’s political parties are rising to the occasion. The Constitutional Democratic Party (立憲民主党) – Japan’s largest opposition party – and the Japan Innovation Party (日葡維新の会) were the first on board with a joint proposal to include free lunch for elementary and middle school students as a strategy to raise the dwindling birth rate.
CDP Diet representative Kikuta Makiko said, “We want to both lessen the burden on caregivers as well as remove the mental stress from kids who can’t afford it. This will also remove the burden from teachers who are forced to collect overdue lunch fees.”
A costly plan
However, few proposals get made into law without the backing of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP (自由民主党). Together with their ally the Komeito, they control 292 seats in Japan’s 465-member Diet.
Fortunately, the LDP is now also officially on board. The party announced recently that it will include free school lunches for elementary and middle school students as part of its overarching strategy to address population decline. The party also wants to grant cash payments to parents to offset the burden of rising consumer costs.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has made a strategy for population decline a key element of his tenure and has called for a “different kind of thinking” and innovative ideas.
All told, the LDP says its overall strategy to address population decline will cost 8 trillion yen (around USD $60.7B).
According to the Nikkei, the entire proposed strategy package might face hurdles due to its size. The budget dwarfs even the proposed 2% hike in the country’s defense budget, which only clocks in at around 3 trillion yen. The funding sources for the plan will probably be a source of contention in negotiations between the parties.
A solution to a dwindling population?
Until now, volunteer efforts such as kids’ cafeteria (子ども食堂; kodomo shokudou) have filled the gap created by poverty and a paucity of government assistance. However, people who’ve run these projects say they can disappear overnight. They’ve urged the government to step in with funding our an alternative solution.
In truth, the motivation for free school lunches comes less from a concern for kids as for the future of the nation. With Japan’s population dwindling rapidly, politicians have grappled for ways to raise the birth rate. The national government is even weighing direct cash incentives to kids and parents. Some politicians have also called on Japan to raise its limits on immigration as a stopgap measure.
Other issues still loom
However, money isn’t the only thing holding people back from having kids. Many parents complain that attitudes towards parents – particularly parents with strollers on public transportation – run contrary to politician’s praise for mothers and fathers.
Then there’s the unfair burden of housework. Japanese women do five times more housework than men – one of the worst proportions among OECD nations.
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自民、小中の給食費無料提言 少子化対策「総額8兆円」. Nikkei
新年度 変わる「少子化対策」 給食費や医療費“無償化”も…自治体ごとの支援策は? Sankei Shimbun
「学校給食無償化法案」立憲と維新が国会に共同提出 来年4月から公立の小中学校の給食費無償化を目指す. TV Asahi News