China will aggressively develop support services for home care for the elderly over the next three years, given that those above 60 account for more than 11 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
All urban communities would be required to offer care services for the aged by the end of 2010 under a work plan released on Thursday by 10 government departments, including the China National Committee on Aging (CNCA) and the National Development and Reform Commission.
About 80 percent of rural towns are to establish comprehensive service centers for the aged and a third of villages should set up structures that would allow the aged to access home care, the plan said.
"The different requirements were based on different economic and social conditions in urban and rural areas," said CNCA Executive Deputy Director Li Bengong.
China faces an increasing social security burden with the rapid growth of the aged. There are more than 149 million Chinese aged 60 or older, of whom only 6 to 8 percent are willing to enter retirement homes, according to a CNCA report.
CNCA Deputy Director Yan Qingchun said "the number of the aged who cannot live by themselves has seen a big increase in recent years."
Among the 38.56 million elderly urban residents, 14.6 percent, or 5.64 million people as of 2006, cannot live independent and need care. There were only 4.14 million such residents in 2000.
Traditionally, most elderly Chinese lived with their children after retirement. But in recent years, the numbers of empty nesters in cities and rural areas has increased.
The CNCA report revealed nearly half, or 49.7 percent, of elderly persons in urban areas lived in empty-nest households in 2006, while 50.3 percent stayed with relatives. In rural areas, 38.3 percent of elderly lived alone, while 61.7 percent resided with relatives.
According to the report, more than 85 percent of the elderly would like to live independently in their own homes after retirement, thus testing the country's ability to provide adequate social insurance and medical services for them.
The aged in urban areas have demanded various forms of care service, such as housecleaning and nursing, as well as having partners to chat with, Yan said.
"Such demand has boosted a thriving service industry," he said.
The potential market value of the care service for the aged in urban areas has exceeded 70 billion yuan (about 9.78 billion U.S. dollars). It is forecast to reach 130 billion yuan in 2010 and exceed 500 billion yuan in 2020.
(Xinhua News Agency February 22, 2008)