Businesswoman Wong Ninie, who advises the government on ageing, says what China needs instead is to develop services for the elderly.
We are talking about more and more people getting semi or completely dependent meaning they have to stay home or stay in an institution to have around-the-clock care. So that's really a new challenge for the whole Chinese society. We're not really ready to provide sufficient support or sufficient care services to this huge number of people.
What types of new services and new facilities then is China trying to develop to meet this need?
Well, the Chinese government has realized that institutional care which is the traditional understanding of putting the elderly in specialized nursing homes or retirement homes is not going to solve most of the problems. In fact, as of today, we have less than 2% of the elderly having access or living in nursing homes. The government has set sort of a long-term goal for the 12, five-year plan to make availability to about 4% or even less, 3% for Shanghai area's people to live in elderly homes. And the government is now developing a whole system to provide support services that enable people to stay in their communities and in their own homes.
So what kind of services are these?
It's really a big mixture of services including meal services, including home helpers or domestic services like cleaning, laundry, cooking, et cetera, and medical-related care.
And so far, are businesses coming up to meet this need, or where are the biggest gaps?
We have, well actually there are gaps everywhere. Today, the situation is, if we only take the most demanding part of this population, which is the semi-dependent or completely dependent people we are talking about. We are looking at nearly 40 million people across the country. And for these people, everything is needed but nearly everything is yet to be provided. When we do not have enough support, enough human resources or trained staff to go into the homes and do everything for them, the question is really can we try to keep people as independent as they can for as long as they can?
And what kind of policy shifts or incentives are being offered by the government to encourage this kind of services or businesses to fill this gap?
As we speak, the government has now issued some of the new national directives to welcome more private investment in services at home, in services for the elderly. But if we are looking at the implementation, it's still very early stage, which means when you go a bit deeper, you don't see any real material change yet. I think in the next five years, these changes are going to happen. One example is long-term care insurance, which actually is one of the main sources for funding elderly care when they stay home or after they get dependent. In China, this is, we have been talking about this for the past couple of years. But this is really at the infancy of development. And then when we talk about incentives from the government, we have seen pilots in some cities like Beijing, Shanghai or even Hangzhou, where government provides vouchers or sort of subsidies to the seniors for them to use and buy services that enable them to stay home.