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FSA report estimating 20 mil. yen needed to fund retirement traced to health ministry

TOKYO -- A Financial Services Agency (FSA) panel report stating that an average elderly couple will need some 20 million yen to fund a 30-year post-retirement life, which stirred controversy and led to Finance Minister Taro Aso refusing to accept it, was based on data presented by the health ministry, it has been learned.

The hotly debated FSA report was compiled by a market working group of the agency's Financial System Council. However, it has come to light that the same data on which the report was based had been presented to a council of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in February.

Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said he will not accept the FSA report, stating, "It's different from the government's policy stance." But the latest revelation indicates that the report in question actually just followed the government's conventional position, raising questions about Aso's account.

According to the minutes of a meeting of the FSA working group held on April 12, the data in question was presented by a division head of the health ministry's Pension Bureau. The data introduces the significance of individual pensions as a means to supplement public pension programs in securing post-retirement funds.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso (Mainichi)

The official presented data showing the current income and expenditure status of unemployed elderly couple households based on the family budget survey of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and explained, "The difference between real income at 209,198 yen and household expenditure at 263,718 yen is roughly 55,000 yen a month."

In response, a member of the working group from the private sector pointed out that public pension benefit levels will decline from now on and said, "The 190,000 yen cited as social security benefits (in the estimate) will drop to around 150,000 yen for children of baby-boomers and younger generations. The monthly deficit will then be somewhere around 100,000 yen."

Aso had told a press conference on June 11, "Elderly people's lifestyles vary from person to person. It is unreasonable to come up with average value." However, the health ministry official also distributed the same data at a meeting of the corporate pension and individual pension subcommittee of the health ministry's Social Security Council held on Feb. 22 and provided a similar explanation. Therefore, the "55,000 yen deficit" theory discussed in the FSA working group meetings was exactly in line with the health ministry's established view.

The FSA panel's report also came under fire for calling for individual efforts to prepare post-retirement funds. However, the data distributed at the meeting of the Social Security Council in February also cited "development of an environment that supports self-help efforts that are not dependent on working styles or employers," as one of the "major challenges to consider regarding the corporate and individual pension systems."

Furthermore, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party stated in its campaign promise for the upcoming House of Councillors election released on June 7 that "the 'Accumulation NISA' (tax-exempt investment scheme) will further be promoted to help the public build stable assets throughout their lives in the age of the 100-year life span" -- indicating the party's intention to urge people to prepare for their post-retirement livelihoods in a longevity society.

Nobuo Sasaki, professor emeritus at Chuo University who specializes in public administration, said, "It is only natural to discuss what to do as pension benefits will not be enough. They (government officials) should hold serious discussions about what to do."

In a related development, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledged on June 13 that a briefing provided by the health ministry played a role in the FSA report in question.

At a press conference on the morning of June 13, Suga said, "It is true that the health ministry explained during the (FSA) working group's discussion that the difference between the income and expenditure of elderly households was 55,000 yen (a month)."

However, Suga insisted that the 20 million yen estimate cited in the report "was the working group's own opinion," suggesting that the government's rejection of the FSA report did not contradict its own position.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara and Katsuya Takahashi, Political News Department)

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