- Anonymous blog post spurs parliament debate, parent protests
- Abe pledges to offer remedies ahead of summer elections
An anonymous Japanese blogger’s tirade about failing to secure a daycare place for her child has spurred Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into action.
In a Feb. 15 blog post titled "I couldn’t get daycare -- die Japan!!!" a person identifying as a mother said she was preparing to quit her job as she had nowhere to leave her child. "So what am I supposed to do now?" she wrote using unusually coarse language in the post shared about 50,000 times on social media. "Give me a damn break Japan."
After initially brushing off the post, Abe has promised remedies. On Friday, he pledged to add detailed measures in legislation this spring to reduce waiting-lists for daycare -- the figure climbed to 23,167 in April last year. The same day, his ruling party set up a task force to propose fixes, and the head of his coalition partner suggested using extra budget funds for the issue.
"Applications for nursery schools have increased at a pace faster than we can provide places for," Abe said in parliament Monday, in response to one of a raft of questions throughout the day on the issue. "We will do our utmost to cut waiting lists to zero so that people can both work and raise children."
Grappling with an aging and shrinking population, Abe has made boosting women’s participation in the workforce a pillar of his economic policies. He may have decided to take action to stem a sagging support rate among women -- 37 percent compared with 47 percent for men in a Mainichi newspaper poll this month -- ahead of upper house elections this summer, said Mari Miura, a professor of gender and politics at Sophia University in Tokyo.
"It’s clear that Abe has little understanding of the hardships faced by working women," Miura said. "The LDP is scrambling to ensure that this issue doesn’t blow up before the elections."
Long waiting lists at publicly-run daycare centers have forced many mothers to stay at home, and made women hesitant about switching jobs due to concerns they may lose places for their children. Baby-sitters aren’t widely available -- and are very expensive: full-time care can cost several thousand dollars a month.
"While the number of daycare facilities has increased, there are also more working women," said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. "Given how quickly the working population is projected to decrease, we need to ensure that people who want to work, but currently can’t due to childcare issues, can actually work."
Unleashing the labor of that population would mean big gains for the workforce. Last year, 950,000 women cited childbirth and childcare as reasons why they weren’t searching for a job, even though they had a desire to work.
When first questioned about the post in parliament on Feb. 29 by opposition lawmaker and working mother Shiori Yamao, Abe refused to address the issue, saying the anonymous nature of the post meant he "couldn’t verify the content." That struck a nerve with working parents on Twitter, where people who sympathized with the blogger used a hashtag saying: "It was me who was rejected from daycare." The response to the blog spurred a protest outside parliament on March 5.
The blogger, a mother of one living in Tokyo, said she wrote the post just to express how she felt about being rejected from daycare when she needed to go back to work. Contacted by Bloomberg through a Twitter handle she included in her blog post, she said it was important for people to speak up about this issue instead of accepting the current situation.
Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition on change.org for the government to reduce waiting lists by improving working conditions for daycare workers -- a separate blog highlighting the sector’s meager pay was also picked up by the mainstream media. A daycare worker makes about 214,200 yen ($1,880) per month, compared with the average across sectors of 325,600 yen.
Legislation to raise salary subsidies may help attract more workers to the industry or at least stop people from quitting. A survey of 31,550 child-care workers conducted by the Tokyo metropolitan government between 2008 and 2013 showed one-in-five workers was considering quitting, citing low pay as the top reason.
The Bank of Japan said Tuesday that stock indexes that include companies that are providing programs such as childcare support or training would be among those eligible for its 300 billion yen physical and human capital exchange-traded fund program, which is due to start in April.
One additional solution may be measures to encourage couples to live with or close to their parents, said Akimasa Ishikawa, an LDP lawmaker.
"Then the grandparents can take care of the grandchildren," he said in an interview. "People are struggling."