China's population greys, burden of care weighs

This is a birthday party at elderly care home Heyuejia in Beijing.

With spacious rooms, nutritious food, and even dance shows on offer, staying here comes with a price tag of over $1,500 USD a month.

Prices also vary depending on the level of care needed.

Wang Yiguang is a retired scientist who moved into Heyuejia in 2018 with her husband.

"After all, I'm old and my children are not around... Here, there is someone here to help you at any time, and a doctor can tell you if you need to go to the hospital. So I feel a lot more at ease."

China had 264 million citizens aged 60 and older in 2020, a number set to increase rapidly just as the working population shrinks.

Experts say until recently, almost all elderly people were looked after by relatives.

But shrinking families, migration, and a decline in a sense of filial duty has led to the "erosion of the family support system".

That's when the government started subsidizing home facilities.

More than 40,000 registered homes have been built in recent decades.

But the average occupancy rates are as low as 50%, according to official data - far lower than the 80-90% rates seen in Japan or the UK.

Experts say this is down to China's relative lack of wealth, high fees and the lack of qualified carers.

China planned a decade ago to train 6 million caregivers by 2020.

Just 300,000 were qualified by 2017, according to a report cited by state news agency Xinhua.

For families like Nie Guihua's, they simply cannot afford care homes.

Her husband had a stroke at 55. He can no longer speak and uses a wheelchair.

"You ask me whether I'm worried about getting old, but what can I do? I don't have much money. The country gives me 800 yuan a month, and it's enough for buying food. But it's not going to be enough if I get seriously ill in the future."

Even if the family could afford care homes, Nie's responsibility of taking care of her two grandchildren would make it impossible.

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