Gaffe-prone Japan deputy PM turns ire on young women

Japan's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso puts his hand on his ear to listen to a reporter's question at a news conference in Beijing.

TOKYO - After telling Japan's growing ranks of elderly they should "hurry up and die", Finance Minister Taro Aso has turned his well-worn gaffe gun on "people who don't give birth".

The former prime minister, whose mouth has a habit of running away with him, said pensioners were not to blame for the spiralling social welfare costs of a rapidly ageing society.

"There are many people who are creating the image that (the increasing number of) elderly people is bad, but more problematic is people who don't give birth," Aso said in a speech in Sapporo, local media reported Monday.

The comments came as Aso was stumping ahead of a general election on Sunday.

Japan has a birth rate - the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime - of around 1.4, far below replacement level.

This gives it an inverted age pyramid and a falling tax base.

A dearth of childcare, financial insecurity and gloom about the future have all been blamed for the lack of children in Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly pledged he will boost women's participation in the labour market and make structural changes that will mean they are not forced to make a choice between having a career or having a family.

Aso, who is also Abe's deputy, has form in offending various sections of the electorate, although criticism of his gaffes tends to run like water off a duck's back.

Over the weekend, he reportedly also said businesses that do not make money are either "unlucky or incompetent".

In July last year he said Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform.

Six months earlier, he said the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" instead of costing the government money for end-of-life medical care.