By reconfiguring approach to aging, the problem can be turned into a bonus, experts say
China is taking measures to cope with an aging population by setting up new domestic nursing services, regulating the operation of nursing homes, protecting the rights of the elderly and expanding their access to education to bolster security and happiness.
In November, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, China's Cabinet, released a guideline on improving health services in which the elderly were encouraged to play an active role in society through continued education and greater access to entertainment.
The guideline stressed the need to enhance the protection of personal rights and create a more friendly environment for the elderly by improving public awareness of the importance of respect.
For example, all levels of government are required to set up service inventories or management systems to offer tailored services for seniors by evaluating their health and financial conditions. Domestic nursing services, rehabilitation care and social relief are further mandated.
Du Peng, vice-president of Renmin University of China said in a recent interview with Xinhua News Agency that creating such service inventories will help the government define which seniors require services, create standards to ensure they have access and also determine how they should apply for them.
He added that the establishment of a management system is important in giving governments active responsibility both for caring for the elderly and for devising tailor-made policies and support measures for companies wishing to play a role in the sector.
Improving the health of the elderly was also highlighted. Local governments should make more family doctors available to seniors with disabilities, severe diseases, or who are on low incomes. More State-level old-age centers and nursing clinics will be built to facilitate.
According to the seventh national census published in May, there are 264 million people aged 60 and above, accounting for 18.7 percent of the population. The size of China's aging population has increased 5.44 percentage points since the previous national census in 2010.
To allow for a growing aging population, the guideline emphasized that policymaking bodies should take a positive attitude toward the group and respond to the problem promptly, scientifically and comprehensively by improving family-planning, employment and pension insurance mechanisms.
"We should not only recognize the problems and challenges of an aging population, but work to unleash potential by making the elderly active in society again. It's a dialectical problem," Wang Jianjun, an official from the National Health Commission, said at a news conference last month.
Pang Shi, director of the Department of Employment and Entrepreneurship at the Chinese Academy of Personal Science, said that developing the human resources of the aging population could effectively relieve the national labor shortfall.
"Though the structure of the population has changed as we are in an aged society, the elderly can still produce a demographic bonus. The previously existing standard for measuring such a bonus may have to be rectified," Pang said.
"We have 260 million people aged 60 or above so far, with around 56 percent between 60 and 69, the younger end of the group. Among these 'younger elderly', most have the knowledge, the experience and the skills, as well as the good health to potentially rejoin the labor market," she added.
"Seniors who work are better-off psychologically than those who are retired. Also, encouraging them to find jobs can help ease financial problems, further reducing or eliminating poverty among the elderly and boosting consumption," Pang said.
She added that the public has a stereotypical view of the elderly, believing that they are unable to work or have more problems and said that it's time to create a more positive view as the elderly can also contribute to society.
"As for policy, the government should combine pension policy with policies on employment, income and housing. Coping with the aging population on a systematic level will help improve the national pension system, and transform an aging problem into a new opportunity."
The guideline also highlighted the development of sectors specifically catering to the elderly, such as food, medical services and smart devices, and encouraged companies and research centers to develop more tailor-made products through the use of cutting-edge technologies, for example, rehabilitation equipment to improve the quality of life.
Commercial insurance institutes have also been encouraged to create more commercially sustainable and economically sound health insurance policies for the elderly.
The government will take strict measures to crack down on illegal behavior that encroaches on the rights of the elderly－for example, the sale of counterfeit items－to create a safer, more trustworthy environment.
The aging problem is a key concern for the central government. China has made long-term plans for its aging population since 1994, and has enacted five State-level long-term plans focused on the group in the past 27 years.