Thanks to its disastrous and draconian one-child policy, China is set to have an “irreversible” ageing society in the 21st Century but the country seems to have devised a broad-based plan to address economic and social pressures from the ageing population. A national program to be implemented in the 11th Five-Year Plan period and approved by the State Council will boost its social welfare programs, medical subsidies, and launch a special “Silver Age Action” program that will facilitate educated retired population to help development of under-developed west. Beijing has also passed a law to protect the interests and rights of the elderly, along with a number of local regulations mandating support, medical care and general well-being services for senior citizens. Thanks for medical advancement, average life expectancy of the Chinese population reached 71.4 years old in 2000, 2.85 years longer than that in 1990.
The China National Committee on Aging (CNCA) said that while medical and social subsidies have been increased, the demand has not decreased due to increasing silver-age population. China is expected to have 174 million older population or 12.78% of total population by 2010, 243 million or 17% by 2020, and 437 million or 33% in 2051 from the current 145 million or 11%. About 85.57 million old people in rural areas, 65.82 per cent of the country's total, do not benefit from the social welfare system, pensions and lack adequate medical care. China will have over 100 million people who are above 80 by 2030.
The “Silver Age Action” program requires seniors to be integrated into the rural cooperative medical care system in poorer areas and the old-age pension system. It is not clear if such a service is mandatory or voluntary. The state promises to take care of those who are poor and do not have any skills—it is not clear what this means. In the past, China did not give parents an alternative when they had an extra child and forced them to leave that child in badly managed orphanages resulting in slow but certain deaths for the children in inhuman conditions. Therefore, when China says that it will “take care” of its old, one is suspicious about what this means and whether it will be as they did children forced into orphanages. China claims that 40% of its ageing workforce wants to actively participate in social development activities even after retirement and there are an estimated 5 million intellectuals under the age of 70.
The elderly population is expected to have more purchasing power from existing USD 50-75 billion a year to USD 125 billion in 2010. The current 50,000 odd welfare institutions in China are unable to even meet current public (such as medical care), travel, and shopping service needs and can deliver only USD 6.25 billion worth.
The CNCA says that it will increase the number of beds in homes for the elderly by 800,000 in the cities and by 2.2 million in rural areas in the next five years from the current 380,000 beds—which is grossly inadequate considering the numbers that the country faces. The new program requires federal and local administrative investment and support to better infrastructural facilities for elderly people and also bring in cultural and educational activities. The program includes a plan to build 10,000 more colleges and schools for the elderly by 2010.