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How to take better care of senior citizens

By Li Jianmin | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-21 07:44
A boy with his younger brother. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

To meet the challenge of a fast-aging population and realize balanced population growth in the long term, China has been gradually easing the family planning policy. The new family planning policy that allows all couples to have two children shows the Chinese government's determination to address the tricky issue of low birth rate, which has been haunting many countries, especially the advanced nations.

Yet the brief increase in the newborn population and notable rise in the number of couples having a second child after the new family planning policy came into force on Jan 1, 2016, are not enough to reverse the trend of low birth rate. This, in a way, suggests the family planning policy should be further eased to tackle the aging population problem.

The replacement fertility rate is essential for balanced population growth and offsetting the aging population problem. Unfortunately, the two-child policy has not been able to achieve that.

First, even if all couples have two children, China won't have the replacement fertility rate because the infertility rate among couples of childbearing age has hit 12-15 percent.

Second, Chinese couples' fertility desire-1.6-1.8 children per couple according to reports-has slipped to one of the lowest in the world. Worse, the actual fertility rate is usually far lower than the fertility desire, making it impossible for China to have the replacement fertility rate.

This perhaps should prompt the authorities to further ease the family planning policy, as it would boost the fertility desire of couples of childbearing age.

But the interests and welfare of the only-child generation and their parents who have made great sacrifices for China's development should not be overlooked. In fact, "An Open Letter to All Communist Party (of China) Members and Communist Youth League members on Control of Population Growth of Our Country" issued by the CPC Central Committee on Sept 25, 1980, said that in 30 years, when the current extremely tense population situation is alleviated, a different population policy can be adopted. It also said that four decades later some families might face problems in taking proper care of senior citizens, which we should strive to solve.

To solve this problem, the authorities must improve the social welfare and insurance system.

Moreover, the parents of the first only-child generation are senior citizens today, and their number is expected to rise with the passage of time. Finance and daily care are the biggest challenge they face. But the government has already implemented certain policies and made some arrangements to make such senior citizens' life better. For instance, parents in the countryside with only one child are given an annual allowance while some local governments in some provinces offer parents of only child an additional incentive of about 5 percent of their basic salary.

And although major gaps exist between these subsidies and the actual cost of eldercare, the government is capable of honoring its promise of providing proper care for senior citizens.

As for taking care of parents of only child, the government should pay special attention to the following areas. First, the pension standard of senior citizens should be raised, by 10-15 percent, and those facing difficulties should be given an extra allowance. Second, the government must provide medical subsidies for parents of only child and offer special allowances to those with physical disability or in need of special care. And third, the government should grant only child more paid leaves so they can take care of their parents.

The author is a professor at the Institute of Population and Development, Nankai University.

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