Editorial : Laws and Safety Net for a Secure Elderly Life

【明報專訊】The curtains have been brought down on the National People's Congress with the election of new State Council members. Revitalising the economy after the pandemic is a heavy burden, but certain essential and fundamental services must not be sacrificed. The Government Work Report lists eight major tasks for this year, but only one sentence is dedicated to elderly care services: improve elderly care services.

China is now an ageing society. People born in the 1960s will usher in the second peak of population ageing in the next 10 years. However, the current elderly care services are still of extremely poor quality, which is disproportionate to China's achievements in economic development. If the situation does not improve as soon as possible, the country will certainly be unable to deal with the increasingly serious problem of an ageing society.

In Chinese traditional customs, it is the predominant trend to spend retirement at home. According to data from the National Health Commission, 90% of the elderly live at home, 7% rely on community support, and only 3% live in elderly care homes. The proportion of elderly people living in facilities is low because most of them do not want to live in care homes. Still, a considerable number of elderly people have needs for them. Cities across the country have not paid enough attention to this. Not enough funds are allocated, and not enough beds are provided for those elderly people who need them. Even more ridiculous is the utilisation rate of existing beds for the elderly, which is lower than 70%. The reason is that the threshold for admission is too high, and not enough effort has been devoted to finding elderly people in need. These are an indictment of the government's dereliction of duty.

Without specific requirements of a set of national laws, local governments are not shouldering the responsibility on their own. Disabled or even incapacitated senior elderly people need to live in care homes, even if they are living with their families at home. If they live alone, depriving them of elderly care services at facilities is no different than making them commit a "slow suicide". This problem was even more prominent during the pandemic when some cities were under lockdowns. Here, the government must fulfil the residual responsibility earnestly.

Supporting elderly care services requires government funds. Meanwhile, the monthly pension insurance debits to the elderly rely on the National Social Security Fund. Working individuals and the organisations they work under contribute to 73% of the Fund's income. To relieve the burden on businesses, the government has reduced the 20% corporate contribution rate to 16%. For sure, the proportion of government funding rises in turn. At a time when the economy is yearning for recovery after the pandemic, the government does not have a light load.

These difficulties are not easy to solve. However, the elderly deserve benefits and a decent later life given that they have toiled away for most of their lives and made contributions to society.

At the National People's Congress that has just concluded, the Shanghai delegation proposed a National Elderly Care Services Law and submitted a draft bill for review. There have not been many examples of local governments drafting national laws and tabling them to the National People's Congress. Hopefully, this will be a good start. This is because local governments can better sum up practical opinions and suggestions after doing the practical work. It is hoped that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress will deliberate on the draft as soon as possible, and consult other local governments and relevant voluntary groups, before adopting this law that will help give elderly people a secure life as early as can be.

明報社評2023.03.13:老有所養須立法保障 政府為兜底服務負責








■ Glossary 生字 /

disproportionate : too large or too small when compared with sth else

indictment : a very clear sign that a system, method etc. is very bad or very wrong

toil away : to work very hard and/or for a long time, usually doing hard physical work

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