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New eldercare hubs needed to better serve rural residents

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-07-02 06:47
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Li Min/China Daily

Three elderly women from rural areas now living in Beijing with their children were chatting in a corner of our community square recently after finishing their routine square dancing one evening. "My salary is 600 yuan ($82.56) per month," I overheard one of the women as saying. "So high!", the other two exclaimed.

From their conversation, I came to know that the second woman's salary was 400 yuan a month and the third's a paltry 180 yuan. The "salary" the women were talking about, in fact, is the pension they get from the rural social endowment insurance fund since 2009.

Before 2009, rural residents were not eligible for social insurance and, in old age, they were largely dependent on their children. Elderly couples in rural areas who didn't have any children were shifted to old people's homes near their towns or counties where they were taken care of.

To deal with the population aging problem in rural areas and to help farmers lead a better life, an endowment insurance was established 15 years ago. The social insurance program is open to all rural residents and the pension amount it offers is much lower than urban pension funds.

Under the present mechanism, a person should deposit about 2,000-6,000 yuan per year for 15 years to be eligible to receive a pension of a few hundred yuan a month after retirement at the age of 60. One can choose to pay in bulk.

But since the insurance program is operated on a provincial/municipal basis, the insurance premium and the pension amount one gets can differ greatly depending on the development level of the province/municipality and the percentage of rural residents in the local population.

The average pension is about 1,400 yuan per month in Shanghai, 887 yuan in Beijing, 190 yuan in Guangdong province and 128 yuan in Sichuan province.

Rural residents, especially those who have retired, are happy with the insurance program. The pension amount, though humble, is enough to pay for food in rural areas, especially since elderly people can raise chickens and grow vegetables in their courtyards. They can earn some money also from the fruits that grow on the trees. And if rural residents are too old to till their land and harvest the crops, they can lease out their plots and orchards to other farmers to earn some money.

Despite being beneficial, however, the rural insurance program can't solve all the problems, problems such as how to deal with the rising number of elderly residents in rural areas who need financial support as well as eldercare. Statistics from the seventh national census in 2020 show that people aged above 60 made up 23.81 percent of the total rural population, 7.99 percentage points more than in urban areas.

Many youths migrate from rural to urban areas in search of better-paying jobs and to lead a better life, leaving their elderly parents and/or grandparents in villages. Governments at different levels have been taking measures to ensure such elderly people receive proper care. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, together with 20 other ministries and institutions, published the "Guidelines for Speeding up the Development of Elderly Care for Rural Residents".

According to the guidelines, by the end of next year, all the 1,299 counties in the country are expected to have at least one support/service center for helpless rural residents. There are about 16,000 such centers with a total of 1.68 million beds in China. More such facilities are being built across China to provide proper eldercare to all those who need it.

The guidelines also require more township-level eldercare centers to be built so that at least 60 percent of rural residents are covered by the plan within one year. China now has more than 145,000 such centers in towns and villages. Such centers are providing house-calling service, daycare service and are coordinating neighborhood mutual help groups. The guidelines also encourage such centers to develop into full-fledged old people's homes and the establishment of more such centers in the villages.

If more efforts are made, elderly people in rural areas can expect better care.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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