Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

OUTLOOK 2015: Social Security Issues Are Everybody's Problem

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

OUTLOOK 2015: Social Security Issues Are Everybody's Problem

Article excerpt

Rina Yoshinaga, now 24, took a class on social security when she was a senior at Waseda University after one of her parents became unemployed.

"I figured I should familiarize myself with the kind of [social security] systems that I can draw on if I have trouble making a living," said Yoshinaga, who graduated from Waseda last year.

Students in the class learned that when they get old, their pensions will be lower than those enjoyed by today's senior citizens.

"That's why I hear complaints that the public pension system is untrustworthy or that young people are suffering losses," she explained. "But we should study the kind of preparations we can make if pension payments become lower in the future. I think it's more important to see the problem as our own, rather than merely criticizing it."

Pension payouts will be reduced this spring for the first time, meaning they will not rise in line with commodity prices or wages. Starting this summer, users will also be charged more for nursing care services.

The so-called reorganization of hospital beds is set to be rolled out soon as well. Expensive to run, the number of hospital beds for patients in the acute stages of illness will be reduced to what is considered an appropriate level and their purposes will be clearly defined.

In the social security sector this year, the key phrases appear to be "heavier burdens" and "streamlining benefits."

This year is considered symbolic in terms of Japan's demographic makeup. All the members of the baby boomer generation, which saw more than 8 million births, will reach 65 or older and begin receiving pension payments and using medical and nursing care services in a full-fledged manner.

Meanwhile, the number of children that will eventually sustain the social security system is decreasing. Births this year are almost certain to number less than 1 million.

Weighed down by a tremendous fiscal deficit and a low-birthrate population that continues to decline and age, Japan is increasingly struggling to manage its social security system, with costs exceeding 100 trillion yen.

Under such difficult conditions, how should we report on the social security system? I would like to keep three points in mind.

First, the system's "security" functions should be reported more clearly -- especially at a time when the public may feel more pain from, and hold more worry, frustration and distrust toward the social security system.

We must remember that if there were no public pension system, care for aged parents would be far more burdensome. Without nursing care insurance, more than 100,000 people a year would have to quit their jobs to take care of the elderly.

Meanwhile, pension money accounts for 10 to 20 percent of residents' income in every prefecture. Since pensioners use some of the money for shopping, the funds now prop up consumption as well as the economy in each region. …

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