China's ageing woes

Taking it easy: Senior citizens playing a board game at a retirement facility in Beijing, China. The Beijing local government is planning a retirement service package that would provide services at home for 90% of the elderly by 2020. - EPA

The country with the most aged population is facing stiff challenges in providing services for the elderly.

AS THOSE of the post-1980 generation become the main breadwinners in China, one of the biggest questions is how the country will be able to support old people, who account for an ever-growing proportion of the population.

Astrid Krag, the Danish Health Minister, says many other countries including hers face a similar challenge but that it presents an opportunity for China and Denmark to help one another.

Krag, 31, was leading a business delegation to Beijing to seek stronger cooperation in the field with China.

At a meeting with Krag, Wang Pei’an, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, says the Chinese aged-care system faces stiff challenges.

“As the country with the most aged population, China is turning older before getting wealthier,” Wang says. “There are many disabled elderly and empty nesters, and a high proportion of the poor are older people.”

More than 194 million Chinese citizens were aged 60 and above in 2012, accounting for 14.3% of the population. The figure will reach 300 million by 2025, the Ministry of Civil Affairs says.

There is huge potential in developing industries that provide services for the elderly, such as daily healthcare and medicines, says Hou Yan, a director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

By 2050, one in every four Danish citizens will be older than 65. The sharp rise in the Danish elderly population will be in those individuals in most critical need of care, those over 80. This group alone is expected to grow 20% over the next 20 years, says the Home Instead Senior Care Network, a global senior care organisation based in the United States.

The number of those aged over 80 in Denmark will double by 2030, Krag says.

“Over the years, we have built a social structure with skilled personnel who are not nurses or doctors but trained specialists helping elderly citizens.”

The Danish delegation visited the Golden Heights, a high-end assisted-living community in Beijing where fees are more than 10,000 yuan (RM5,430) a month. Most of its residents are retired government employees with welfare benefits, so they have few financial concerns.

Krag was impressed by Golden Heights. She says that in Denmark, most people who are unable to afford such accommodation get financial support from the government.

The Danish health ministry has trained carers to help single older people in their homes, for example, with housework.

“If the elderly are too weak to live by themselves, we have the aged-care institutions to which you can bring your own furniture and make your own garden,” Krag says. “We want them to feel like they are living at home, but with a better social life.”

Danish social welfare emphasises tax and finance. The feeling is that the aged have worked and paid taxes for a long time, so the government can cover them in the later stages of their lives, Krag says.

Krag is proud that Danish people are willing to pay a high percentage of their salaries as tax, in return for a good social welfare system that includes free education, free medical care and good aged-care services.

“But if you don’t have a tax-finance system to support every elderly person, I guess it’s important for governments and families to work together. It’s important to make sure that it is not only the people with the most money who have access to a social welfare system in the country.”

Based on the Danish experience, it is also important to have specially trained people and public facilities for aged care, Krag says. – China Daily/Asia News Network

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