Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Government plans to boost child-rearing subsidies

CNA , TAIPEI

Facing a plunging birth rate, the government is planning to increase subsidies for such things as maternity leave and day care to help couples overcome obstacles to raising children.

According to the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) Chairman Hu Sheng-cheng (胡勝正), although the impact of a shrinking workforce on the economy remains to be seen, a conclusion was reached in the recent Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development that the government should offer incentives to encourage people to have more children.

Hu said that Taiwanese couples have fewer children than their counterparts in other major countries, and cited statistics compiled by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) to validate his concerns.

Last year, Taiwanese women of child-bearing age had an average of 1.1 children, far lower than the world average of 2.7 and the average of 1.6 in the world's industrialized countries, according to CEPD tallies.

Compared with neighboring countries, Taiwan's 1.1 was slightly ahead of Hong Kong's 1, but lagged behind China's 1.6, Japan's 1.3 and South Korea's 1.2.

The number of babies born in Taiwan this year might not exceed 200,000, the DGBAS forecast.

After having assessed measures adopted by other nations, the CEPD is working to provide better subsides for maternity leave as well as high-quality day care services for career women, Hu said, adding that detailed measures would be made public by the end of this month.

But he added that it was critical to win support from enterprises to put the measures in place, saying that this should take place in a piecemeal fashion.

As Taiwan's population is rapidly greying, domestic industries are set to suffer from worsening labor shortages, Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) said, suggesting that the business community make adjustments to secure persistent growth both at home and abroad.

While the increase in the nation's population will not come to a halt suddenly, Chen said that its gradual decline would still deal a heavy blow to the social, educational and political sectors.

The DGBAS predicted that by 2018, the number of people in Taiwan's 20-24 age group would be fewer than those in the 60-64 age group. Japan, Germany and Italy have already experienced this change in demographic structure, while France and Canada are expected to face the same situation in 2010 and 2015, respectively, and the US and Britain in 2020, according to the DGBAS.

Meanwhile, the nation's elderly are expected to rely more on social welfare than on filial piety by 2030, by which time the country's family and demographic structures will have undergone major changes, government sources said yesterday.

With an increasing number of Taiwanese getting married later in life while the country's birth rate continues to decline, financial support for the elderly will diminish year by year, causing social welfare and public services to become important sources of support, DGBAS officials said.

According to the officials, the average age of first-time mothers in Taiwan stood at 27.7 last year, 1.6 years older than that recorded in 1995, while the birth rate declined to 1.1 children last year from 1.8 children posted in 1995.

In addition to the impact of a shrinking workforce on the economy, the greying of the population is also having a major impact on society, they said.

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