October 8, 2010

CHINA: Urgent need of a social care insurance system

BEIJING, China / China Daily / Society / October 8, 2010

China's ageing population needs care system

By Li Yao

China urgently needs to establish a social care insurance system, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said on Monday at an international symposium on protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Liu Cuixiao, an expert at the Academy's law institute, identified three reasons why the country needs to create a welfare system.

"Demographic ageing is accelerating in China, and concentrated in its rural areas," Liu said.

By the end of 2009, the number of Chinese aged 60 and above reached 167 million, 12.5 percent of the total population. This number will climb to 248 million by 2020, and the yearly increase will jump from the current 3.11 million to 8 million, according to Liu.

Liu estimated by 2030, people aged 65 and above in rural areas will account for 13 percent of China's rural population, rising to 19 percent in 2040.

"A large number of the elderly in China are extremely frail and need proper care," Liu said. The elderly face higher risks of cerebrovascular diseases and dementia, and a higher rate of morbidity and disability, due to their declining physical functions, Liu said.

The elderly made up 75 percent of the 20 million additional populations of people with disabilities in China from 1987 to 2007, according to the second nationwide survey on people with disabilities.

"An increasing ageing population means growing need for old-age care. But available services fail to meet that need," Liu said.

The tradition of old-age care provided by children and relatives is no longer sustainable in today's rapidly developing and urbanizing China, as many elderly live in empty nests, their children often unavailable for their needs, according to Liu.

Ten percent of those in need receive care at public nursing homes, but the majority cannot afford expensive services from private agencies, which are running with variable qualities under lax regulations, Liu said.

Liu Jitong, professor at the Department of Health Policy and Management of Peking University, told China Daily that creating a social care insurance system is a timely response to the ageing problem of China.

Liu said installing such a system will not involve much extra public spending, as individuals and employers will pour in their contribution. And the system will benefit a wide range of people, including the elderly and other disadvantaged populations.

But with limited budgets, policy-makers constantly face the thorny problem of addressing different disadvantaged groups' needs, according to Ding Yuanzhu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, also a veteran at China's National Development and Reform Commission for over a decade.

Li Jianfei, professor at the Law School of Renmin University of China, told China Daily that institutionalized social care for the elderly is an imminent step for China to take.

"Whether such a system is doable or not, this is the right question to consider for China now," Li stressed, "How much it will cost, that is the next question to ask."

Women, living on average five to six years longer than their husbands, face a more difficult situation in old age, Li said.

Copyright 1995 - 2010 China Daily