Elderly care services to be expanded
The central government has underscored the need to expand the supply of elderly care services and spur consumption in the sector as China rapidly transitions to an aging society.
At an executive meeting on Wednesday, the State Council, China's Cabinet, decided on measures to boost the development of various community-and home-based elderly care services to make it easier for senior citizens to access meal, transport, home cleaning and medical services.
Businesses will be encouraged to develop high-quality products that fit the needs of the elderly, and the government will step up the development and renovation of facilities devoted to aged care services, a statement released after the meeting said.
"Home-based aged care not only follows the tradition of the Chinese people, but also suits the current development standard of our country," Premier Li Keqiang said at the meeting.
He underlined the importance of providing more aged care services and expanding access to them, even though the family remains the primary source of care for the elderly in China.
Enabling private sector participation in aged care services and adopting multiple steps to boost the growth of related sectors, such as tourism and health-related services, were crucial steps, the premier said, adding that the measures will follow the demands of the public, spur the vitality of cities, and expand effective investment and broaden consumption.
Last year, the number of people in China age 65 or above reached 166 million - 11.9 percent of the country's population - according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
China will move from being an aging to an aged society by 2027, and by 2050, 26 percent of the population is expected to be 65 or older, and about 8 percent will be 80 or older, according to a report published by the World Bank in December.
"To tackle this pressing challenge, China will require a balanced mix of services across home, community, and institutional settings that can best meet older people's preferences and needs," the report said.
Although continued government support was needed for elderly people who have limited functional ability and who are poor and vulnerable, the report said "the most effective and sustainable approach would be to leverage resources and complementary capacities from both the public and private sectors to create a functioning market for elderly care across income groups and across urban and rural areas."
The report estimated that the aged care industry in China needs 10 million workers, with the great majority working in institutional care facilities.
However, by 2015, the industry had just 1 million workers - and only 20,000 had official training.
"To retain and incentivize the current aged care workforce, Chinese policymakers should focus on finding sustainable ways to raise the wages of these workers, and local governments must eventually increase minimum wages for elder care workers," the report added.
In its statement on Wednesday, the State Council said it will step up the training of workers for aged care institutions and support the development of commercial aged care insurance.
A long-term aged care mechanism featuring insurance, social benefits and government assistance will be established.
Subsidies for caring for elderly people who are faced with economic difficulties or physical disabilities will be increased, the statement said.
It also called for greater efforts to monitor the quality of products and services for the elderly and to crack down on wrongdoing that harms their interests.
Pan Helin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Fiscal Sciences, said the need for a more comprehensive aged care system is more pressing because the elderly are living increasingly lonely lives.
He said aged care services must focus on meeting seniors' physiological, safety and social belonging needs and nurturing their self-esteem and self-actualization.
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