It can't be helped if people label the government's latest proposal a brazen "handout" ahead of this summer's House of Councillors election.
The government and ruling coalition have begun considering distributing a "temporary special benefit" to pensioners as support for their daily lives to offset the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the proposal, each person is to receive a one-time payment of about 5,000 yen (approx. $40), with some 26 million people eligible to collect. The government and ruling coalition say they aim to distribute the payments before the upper house poll.
Public pension payments, which are linked to wage trends among the working population, will drop by 0.4% starting this spring due to the pandemic. The government aims to make up for this with the special benefit. It is envisioned that reserve funds from this fiscal year's budget will be used to cover the measure.
People's lives are certainly becoming tougher with the added burden of higher prices stemming from rising crude oil prices. But this measure, which surfaced suddenly, is a fraught one.
The first question that arises is why this payment is limited to pensioners? The government has already made payments including to households raising children, but there are households in need among the working population that don't have children and haven't received enough support.
Furthermore, pensioners vary widely in their economic situations. Low-income households that have already received the 100,000-yen (approx. $840) handout will not be eligible to receive payments under the latest measure. How effective is it to distribute a blanket 5,000-yen payment to people, including elderly people who have financial leeway?
Moreover, since the money for the benefits will come from reserve funds, the government can decide to distribute the handout without Diet debate. In the past two years, the reserve funds have gradually swollen on the pretext more is needed for coronavirus countermeasures. The Diet should be holding extensive debate on what measures are actually necessary based on the situation domestically and abroad.
The latest benefit proposal came following a recommendation to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida by senior officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito. There is tension between the two parties over upper house election cooperation, and it is obvious the cash handout for seniors is meant as a foothold to improve relations.
Kishida has promoted what he calls a "new capitalism" focusing on redistribution. Is he implying that this is the kind of distribution policy that Japan should be aiming for? If he is merely using the handout as a tool to appeal to pensioners just ahead of the election, then he has a cynical disdain for voters. The proposal needs to be taken back to square one.
The government and ruling parties are poised to hammer out new economic measures once the budget for the coming fiscal year is passed, but this latest proposal causes concern for the future. Rather than election measures, the government and ruling coalition should squarely examine measures that will help reassure people in their day-to-day lives.