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Lottery jackpot joy for elderly
( 2001-06-08 23:45 ) (9 )

Elderly people in China have hit the lottery jackpot in the biggest welfare scheme to be implemented in the country since 1949.

Eighty per cent of the proceeds from China's national lottery will be put into providing facilities and care for the elderly over the next three years.

Dubbed the Starlight Project, the programme will put cash into building welfare houses, day care centres and entertainment and leisure facilities with the simple aim of helping elderly people live out their retirement in comfort.

Investment from provincial governments and private donations will form the bulk of the funding, alongside cash from the national welfare lottery.

This was launched in China in 1987 to help poverty-stricken people in less-developed regions in China, and from next year it will put the bulk of its proceeds into care for the elderly.

Chen Jiechang, a spokesman from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said Friday that about 4 to 5 billion yuan (US$481 million to 602 million), will be put into the project.

Chen said total investment for the project may be as much as 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion).

"Elderly people should not be sidelined in society. Despite their age, they should have places where they can go for fun and where they can get the extra help they need in their daily lives,'' said Yang Yanyin, vice-minister of civil affairs.

China is home to 132 million elderly citizens aged over 60, taking up 10 per cent of the nation's total population and 20 per cent of the world' ageing population. The figure is set to expand by 3.2 per cent on an annual basis over the next 50 years.

China has become one of the world's fastest growing ageing societies.

The phenomenon has put China at the forefront of facing the challenges of providing sufficient health care, economic well-being, day care and social security, already a rising public concern.

"The most formidable challenge right now is how to keep the welfare benefits up to speed with the growing elderly population since it is expanding very fast,'' said Wu Duo, a senior specialist on research into the ageing society in China.

China has been making constant efforts to cope with the issue over the last decade.

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs said that by the end of 2000, there were 4,543 welfare facilities available from almost 80 per cent of the 5,902 sub-district committees in China. More than 35,000 types of facilities had been allocated to 33 per cent of the 108,000 neighbourhood committees across the nation.

In rural areas, 37,344 facilities have been set up in 85.8 per cent of 43,511 villages and small towns.

Care for the elderly has been put into China's 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05), in which the central government has committed itself to strengthening investment and aid to protect the interests of the senior population.

But Deng Guosheng, a senior expert on elderly issues at Tsinghua University, said care for the elderly should be the concern of the whole society and that volunteers and donations from all walks of life were still needed.

"What the elderly want is not simply money and a place to live,'' he said. "They also need respect and love from other communities. They do not want to be treated as a burden on society.''



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