China 'got old before it got rich'

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China will prioritize more home-based care services for its growing aged population during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, said the civil affairs minister.

"Social services at home are the most important symbol of home-based care services, and this is an urgent requirement for most old people. Therefore, our main energy and investment will be put into this field," said Li Liguo, minister of civil affairs.

Although there are more than 38,000 nursing institutions caring for 2 million senior citizens around the country, service has fallen far behind the needs of the rapidly aging society.

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that more than 167 million people in China are over the age of 60 and one in five old people has physical or mental impairments.

"China became an aged society in 1999, when our per capita GDP was quite low. In other words, the country got old before it got rich," Li said.

Due to the overflow of rural labor to the urban areas, more than 40 million old people are left without family care in villages, where "community or home-based nursing services have not been established", the minister said.

"What we hope and will try hard to achieve in the next five years is to make home-based and community caring services universal for the old in cities," Li said, "And we will also fulfill the requirements of those who need to live in nursing homes."

Li added the government will try to narrow the disparities between the rural and urban areas in terms of social services for the old.

At the same time, the government will encourage more social organizations and individuals to participate in improving social services for the aged, according to Li.

Regarding fees for care, Li said the government will provide free services for those without family support, income and work, and subsidize the old who have low incomes while fully charging better-off senior citizens.

Figures from the ministry this November also showed that more than 81 million people in disaster-hit areas required food support and 20 million were in need of clothes or heating in the winter.

The 57-year-old minister said he could never forget what he saw at disaster-stricken areas and he planned to visit some severely afflicted places before the new year.

"I hope to see children go to school and people's work and lives all return to normal. The temporary shelters are warm instead of cold, and people look calm instead of panicked," Li said.

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