More help for retirees over border eyed
Olga Wong and Dennis Chong
The government is exploring the possibility of allowing local social organisations and medical institutions to operate in Nansha, a district of Guangzhou, to strengthen health services for Hong Kong retirees in the mainland.
The measure under consideration was revealed by Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung, who led the Steering Committee on Population Policy, in a legislative meeting yesterday as lawmakers questioned him about ways to tackle the problems of an ageing population.
Lawmakers of major political parties said they were disappointed with the population policy report the committee released last week, which they said was not comprehensive enough and lacked initiatives.
'Retiring in the mainland could be a win-win solution, as it can reduce the city's ageing population and retirees can enjoy a lower cost of living,' said Wong Kwok-kin, a legislator representing the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions. 'But there are questions over whether they can enjoy the same standard of health care, which is a key consideration for them.'
Lam said government officials and their mainland counterparts were studying the possibility of allowing health care providers and social welfare organisations to offer services in Nansha.
'But we have to take a prudent approach. It cannot be opened to all organisations at once,' he added.
Nansha is a new development area, one of three listed under the Framework Agreement on Hong Kong/Guangdong Co-operation signed in 2010.
Under the national 12th five-year plan, Nansha will be developed into a business services hub, a technological innovation centre, and a base for training, education and high-end international medical services.
But Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a former social welfare legislator and a lecturer in applied social sciences at Polytechnic University, said Nansha was not a popular district for retirees and the grass-roots elderly may not be able to enjoy the costly medical services offered.
'According to figures released by the Council of Social Service, one-third of the city's elderly are poor. Their income is only half of the median household income per capita,' Cheung said. 'High-end medical services provided for the elderly on the mainland will only look attractive to the middle-class.'
Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, criticised the absence of measures in the report to enhance the birth rate. Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah agreed, and also said it did not state exactly how talented people could enter the city.
Tong said the slow progress being made on allowing children born on the mainland to Hong Kong parents to reunite with them in the city was hindering the development of the labour force. They are among the categories of people allowed to apply to mainland authorities for one of the 150 one-way permits to settle in the city issued each day.