Although the opposition parties continue to refuse to accede to formal consultations to discuss the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems, successive days of debates in the Diet have gradually brought shape to concrete points of contention that will require more in-depth discussions in the future between the ruling and opposition parties.
It is truly unfortunate that the "reference materials" focusing on pensions that some people within the DPJ had calculated mechanically came to take on a life of their own as if they were consummate "provisional calculations." However, I do think that it can be said that through these recent discussions, the debate has in fact been moving forward, even if only by degrees, insofar as we have succeeded in coordinating two points of contention having different chronologies, namely this comprehensive reform and the image of pensions in the future.
At the same time, in the debates in the Diet, as well as in the tone of newspaper and television coverage, there is still an inevitable tendency to emphasize the "fiscal resources" aspect, including the consumption tax, insurance premiums, and the like. I can't help but feel a bit frustrated at that.
The starting point of discussions should have been, "how do we envision the modalities of a sustainable social security system?" It is necessary to look squarely at not only pensions but rather the "overall picture," including among other things medical and nursing care and policies to support child-rearing.
New demographic projections were released the other day. There has been no change in the trend of Japan having a dwindling birthrate and aging population that is progressing more quickly than anywhere else on earth. In the year 2050, a remarkable 40 per cent of Japanese will be elder citizens aged 65 or above. This is an acute transformation in the demographic structure never before experienced by humankind. We cannot wait any longer to forge a system that can withstand this radical transformation.
This past Saturday I paid a visit to a housing complex in the city of Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture and enjoyed an exchange of views with relevant people there. As more than 40 per cent of the residents there are 65 years of age or older, the demographic structure there provides a "look ahead" into the situation of Japan 40 years from now.
Even in equating "people aged 65 and older" with "elder citizens," you may not feel any great sense of crisis, as you may have a large number of active people from this group around you. And yet I suppose your impression may change when you hear that ten years from now, the "baby boomers" will turn 75 years old. The less than 10 per cent of people requiring caregivers until age 70 jumps to almost 30 percent among those aged 75 or above.
Not only elderly people with families but also those living alone must be supported by the entire community going forward. The aging of society is by no means a matter relevant only to the local regions. Over the upcoming decade as "cities themselves" experience an aging of their populations, the question will be whether not only the elderly people themselves but also those engaged in medical and nursing services, government staff, and all those having some relation to these issues within communities can find unity and move forward in cooperation.
To enable forward-thinking efforts such as those being undertaken at the Kashiwa housing complex to spread all throughout the country, as part of comprehensive reform, the government will translate the concept of "community comprehensive care" into concrete terms and then work to encourage and enable it. In this regard as well, I very much hope that we have increasingly in-depth discussions on "the desired form for social security to take."
Last Friday (the 10th), the Reconstruction Agency was launched. I have already explained my thoughts regarding this new structure at a press conference.
The Agency's name plaque, made using pine from Takada-Matsubara (a pine grove in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture more than 300 years old and 70,000 trees strong that was completely wiped out by the March 11 tsunami except for a single remaining tree), is filled with both sorrowful regret for the victims and dreams for the reconstruction of the disaster-stricken area. Solemnly taking on the weight this entails, I will work to the very best of my ability to enable the Reconstruction Agency to fulfill its role faithfully.
For those outside of the affected region, I ask for your understanding in the wide-area disposal of debris, which is among the greatest obstacles facing reconstruction.
Hina dolls (ornamental dolls in traditional court dress in celebration of the "Hina Matsuri" Doll Festival on March 3) have been put on display at the Prime Minister's Office, in keeping with annual custom. Seeing them every time I come and go between the Diet and the Prime Minister's Office, I find myself eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring, and yet outside the bitter chill of winter still lingers. Influenza is now prevalent all around the country. Please take care of yourselves, practicing good coughing etiquette and taking proper precautions, with those in poor health taking care not to push themselves too hard.