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Legal changes offer seniors new care model

By Wang Xiaoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2020-06-29 09:47

Social safety net

Experts said legacy support agreements stem from a long-standing policy that is widely deployed in rural China as a way of strengthening the social safety net for seniors who live alone.

Rural residents who are not supported by family members and have to rely solely on social relief benefit are eligible to access the Rural Program of Five Guarantees, which ensures the provision of food, clothing, housing, medical care and burial expenses.

"The contract that enlists people in need into the (five guarantees) system created the basic form of the contemporary legacy support agreement," Fan said.

While the use of the five guarantees has dwindled in the countryside due to the establishment of welfare institutions funded by village committees or other collective organizations, the idea of leaving one's effects to a trustworthy individual who will provide care has gradually spread to urban areas.

"In recent years, some seniors have decided to select a family member who is not eligible to inherit in the normal course of events (such as a grandchild) or a friend to sign such an agreement. The number of such cases is bound to rise in the future, given that Chinese families are shrinking in size and the pace of aging is accelerating," Fan said.

The National Bureau of Statistics said that more than 253 million people in China were age 60 or older by the end of last year, accounting for 18.1 percent of the population.

According to the UN, a country is classified as "aging" when the proportion of people aged 60 or older exceeds 10 percent. By that definition, China entered its "aging era" as early as 1999.

Meanwhile, a report released last year by the China National Committee on Aging predicted that by 2050, more than one-third of Chinese citizens will be older than 60.

Wu Guoping, a professor at Fujian Jiangxia University and a member of the China Law Society's Civil Law Research Association, said research shows that the proportion of "empty-nest" seniors-those left at home alone because they have no children, or because their children have died or moved away-has reached 50 percent in urban areas.

"The country has grown old before it has grown rich-meaning that many households cannot afford high-quality, commercial elderly care services. Meanwhile, the promotion of community-based senior care is really proceeding at a languid pace," he said.

Wu believes that family-based elderly care is likely to play a dominant role for a long time and additional mechanisms, such as legacy support agreements, will only assist seniors who have no children to rely on.

"Such agreements will be a reliable way for seniors to secure satisfactory care after retirement and will also ease the burden on local governments," he said.

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