China is facing an increasing social security burden with the rapid growth of its ageing population, a Chinese official said Tuesday.
"The ratio between the active employees and the retired will reach 2.5:1 in 2020," said Li Bengong, executive deputy director of the China National Committee on Aging.
Li said the figure in 1990 was 10:1 and had dropped into 3:1 in 2003, bringing a "great challenge" to China's social welfare and service system.
A white paper issued Tuesday said that by the end of 2005, China had nearly 144 million people aged over 60, accounting for 11 percent of its population. The number is still rising by three percent every year.
Li said the number of elderly Chinese people is expected to reach 248 million by 2020 and 437 million by 2051.
The official said China was still an "adult society" in 1982 with the number of elderly people accounting for five percent of its total population. But in 1999, the ageing population reached 10 percent of the total.
"The demographic change from an adult society to an ageing society only took 18 years in China, but it has usually taken decades or even hundreds of years in developing countries," he said.
The white paper said the number of people participating in the basic old-age insurance scheme across China last year had reached 175 million, 43.67 million of whom were retirees. But many, especially those living in rural areas, have no welfare guarantees.
The soaring number of senior citizens also brought challenges to China's health and medical system and social service sector.
Li said the medical resources consumed by the aged were three to five times higher than other age groups. "As the number of the aged increases, the expenditure of China's basic medical fund also grows rapidly."
To channel enough funds for medical care, China has been piloting a cooperative medicare program in rural areas since 2003. By last June, the program had been extended to 1,399 counties, covering 495 million rural people, including 73 percent of the rural elderly.
A total of 14.412 billion yuan had been paid in 282 million cases as subsidies to farmers who joined the new medical care system, according to the white paper.
Li said the central government had required local governments to give preferential treatment to people aged over 70, who joined the new medicare program, to meet their special needs.
He said China had 16 million people aged over 80, many of them living without children nearby. "Demands for efficient social care for the aged are great."
A survey showed five percent of China's 144 million aged, or about seven million, hoped to live in nursing homes. However, by the end of 2005, only 1.5 million beds were available for the aged at various care centers.
The government said it will add 2.2 million extra beds for the aged in rural areas and 800,000 for those in cities within the next four years.
Li said the government had promised in its 11th five-year (2006-2010) plan to enhance social care for the aged, including increased financial investment, improving the social care network and revising laws and regulations to better protect elderly people's rights.