China issues guidance for basic elderly care system by 2025

FILE PHOTO: Wang and her husband Hou exercise outdoor at a care home for the elderly, in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) -China has issued guidance to all provinces to build a basic elderly care system by 2025, state-run Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, in the latest step to prevent a demographic crisis.

Who takes care of the elderly in China, where pensions are tiny, is one of the major headaches policymakers face as they deal with the country's first demographic downturn since Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

The ruling Communist Party has mobilised resources to ensure that more vulnerable age groups are cared for as society ages. In 2020, citizens 65 and older accounted for 13.5% of the Chinese population, compared with 8.87% registered in 2010.

"Promoting the construction of the basic elderly care service system is an important task for implementing the national strategy of actively responding to population ageing and achieving equalisation of basic public services," Xinhua said.

It said the guidelines require all provinces to implement a list of basic elderly care services, based on factors such as economic and social development level and financial situation.

Services included material assistance, nursing and care-giving, while all provinces must provide visiting and caring services for elderly living alone and for families with financial difficulties.

China's 1980-2015 one-child policy has meant that smaller families are increasingly expected to support an aging population, while a rising number of elderly are living alone.

Costly nursing homes are out of reach for many elderly, while public options are often not suitable or desirable to live in, leaving a gap in the market for affordable quality retirement lodging, investors said.

China's National Health Commission projects the number of people 60 and older will grow to 400 million by 2035, from 280 million now. There will most likely be a need for about 40 million beds in community facilities and nursing homes, up from 8 million now, analysts say.

Newly built elderly care facilities will be done in accordance with government standards, while older facilities will be renovated to provide a "safe, convenient and comfortable environment", Xinhua said.

Provinces must improve the basic pension system service and implement a long-term care security system that connects insurance, welfare and assistance, the statement said.

Eleven of China's 31 provincial-level jurisdictions are running pension budget deficits. The state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences sees the pension system running out of money by 2035.

(Reporting by Kevin Yao in Beijing and Farah Master in Hong Kong; editing by Barbara Lewis and Gerry Doyle)