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Government pledges to expand elder services

By Li Lei | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-09-17 20:45

A caretaker attends to a senior resident who lives alone at a residential community in Huangpu district in Shanghai, on April 9, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The central government has earmarked 27.1 billion yuan ($4.1 billion) to develop senior care facilities and services between 2012 and last year, the Minister of Civil Affairs Li Jiheng said on Friday.

China has had 329,000 retirement homes and other long-care facilities as of 2020 as authorities have moved to accommodate the aging demographic, he said at a news conference in Beijing.

The number of beds in such facilities has reached 8.21 million, a 97 percent increase since 2012, Li said.

"I hope the elderly will be able to live a dignified, secure, quiet and comfortable life in the future," he said.

"Caring for the elderly will no longer be a source of anxiety for young people, and old age will become a stage of life that people look forward to."

China has more than 260 million people age 60 or older, accounting for 18.7 percent of the population, according to national census data released in May.

Authorities have projected one in three Chinese will fall in that age group by mid-century.

Chinese have traditionally relied on families for care during old age.

However, increased migration – one in every four Chinese were classified as migrants, census data showed – means large number of seniors are "empty-nesters" living away from their adult children.

In addition, 150 million seniors, or around 65 percent, have chronic diseases, and 44 million are defined as "disabled or semi-disabled", according to the National Health Commission.

Vice-Minister of Civil Affairs Gao Xiaobing told the news conference it's the wish of most seniors in China to spend their old age in a familiar environment, surrounded by family members.

With that in mind, the ministry has launched pilot programs across the country to explore the possibilities of home-based services in the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20).

Gao said the country's welfare lotteries set aside about 5 billion yuan during the period to develop such services, ranging from food delivery to home cleaning, and the number of businesses offering such services reached 291,000 as of end of 2020.

The ministry has also worked on bolstering accessibility at old residential communities, such as by adding elevators, and required developers to include elder care facilities in new projects, she said.

During the new Five-Year Plan period starting this year, Gao said the ministry plans to explore possibilities for smarter service, elder care councilors and time banks, which allows people to trade volunteer work for free care services.

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