Nobody cares for carer's job

Updated: 2012-01-04 08:27

By He Dan and Chen Xin (China Daily)

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Three out of every 10 people are over 60 by 2040, but paid help for them is in short supply

Nobody cares for carer's job

A medical worker checks the blood pressure of an elderly woman with no family at a healthcare service center in Hefei, Anhui province, last September. [Photo/Xinhua]

BEIJING - China is struggling to provide enough caregivers for the elderly, especially in big cities. Most young migrant workers are reluctant to work as carers, as there is little employment security for them.

Guan Jingpei, an 88-year-old resident in Beijing's Dongcheng district, suffered from hearing and vision loss due to diabetes. He required intensive support on a daily basis.

Guan, who lived with his wife, 78, drew a monthly pension of 3,600 yuan ($572) - his only source of income.

Guan's family offered to pay 1,600 yuan a month to a caregiver, but none of the four candidates interviewed agreed to take the job.

"They all asked for a higher salary, ranging from 2,000 yuan to 2,500 yuan, and one caregiver demanded a single bedroom, which was beyond our means," said Guan's wife on the telephone.

Xu Weijiang, director of Dongcheng district office of the committee on ageing, said nearly 30 percent of the 200,000 senior residents in the district were in need of carers, while less than half enjoyed such services at home.

Labor shortage in providing home care assistance for the old is acute in big cities. There is a shortage of 20,000 to 30,000 helpers to take care of the elderly at home in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, said Li Shulin, deputy director of Wuhan Homemaking Service Industry Association.

China will need more than 5 million caregivers to take care of the ageing population in 2015, according to a notice released by the State Council in late December.

Wang Zhiqiang, running a home care agency in Beijing for about 15 years, said recruiting home care providers was getting more difficult by the day.

Wang's company had registered about 60,000 homemaking workers in 2004. The number kept shrinking during the past three years, declined to 8,000 in 2009 and 6,000 this year.

"About 90 percent of our company's caregivers are migrant workers aged from 30 to 50. Young workers in their 20s are hard to find," said Wang.

Most of them are female - either migrants from rural areas or laid-off urbanites. They find a carer's job through their personal network, intermediary agencies, or through homemaking service providing companies.

In labor-intensive provinces, carers ask for higher salaries, says Wang, if at all they are willing to work as one.

Wang said that only three candidates turned up after he spent about 100,000 yuan in recruitment advertising in three cities in Hubei province, earlier in 2011.

"For young migrant workers, work is not simply about making money. They are also concerned about whether the job is interesting and can help further their prospects," he said.

Working at someone's home translates into limited opportunity for social networking and tedious routines. Therefore, young migrant workers prefer to work in factories and restaurants, Wang says.

Liu Xiaomei came to Beijing three years ago from East China's Anhui province. She now works at a restaurant."I've never thought of being a domestic helper because the job is boring. I can meet different people as a waiter and I am learning to cook. I hope I can open my own restaurant in Beijing one day," said the 23-year-old.

Babysitting is preferred to caring for the elderly, because of higher salaries. In Beijing, babysitters earn at least 500 yuan more than caregivers to the elderly on average, says Li Dajing, director of Beijing Homemaking Service Association.

Chen Qunqiong, a 49-year-old caregiver from Southwest China's Sichuan province, told China Daily that working for elderly people could be depressing.

"It's stressful taking care of old people suffering from disabilities or chronic diseases, as they tend to lose their temper easily and complain a lot," Chen said.

"Most domestic helpers are not covered by the social security system. This has led to a high turnover rate in this service industry," said Li from Wuhan, adding that there were about 2,400 registered institutions providing home caring services in this provincial capital.

Feng Xiliang, a labor expert at the Beijing-based Capital University of Economics and Business, said experts have been urging the government to make laws to regularize the industry and help it develop soundly.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security was working on it, as a communication officer with the ministry confirmed on Dec 26, without giving details.

"Workers in an industry can enjoy a stable employment environment only when the industry is well regulated. Employment security coverage, such as pension and medical insurances, is also a must," said Feng. "There is an increasing need for domestic helpers to take care of China's ageing population. The only way more young people could be attracted to work in this area was by making the industry more sustainable."

Lu Xuejing, another expert from Capital University of Economics and Business, suggests introducing a national nursing insurance to address problems that an ageing society might bring.

"Each employed person could pay a nursing insurance, with a subsidy from the government, to form an account in the beginning of their career. They could use the money from this account to pay for nursing services when they are old," she said.

Lu also suggests establishing more public nursing homes where people can pay fees by using the money collected from their nursing insurance accounts.

Nearly three out of 10 Chinese will be 60 years old or older by 2040, according to a United Nations forecast.