More funds needed to help 'hermit elderly', says welfare group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 February, 2007, 12:00am

Nearly 3,000 senior citizens classified as 'hermit elderly' sought help from a charity last year, triggering calls for more assistance and funding to address the problem.

The term refers to elderly people who live alone, lack social activities and in many cases have little access to help when they have financial and health problems.

Social workers said the problem could be more severe than believed because these elderly were not easy to track down and needed to be sought out individually.

Last year, the charity Against Elderly Abuse of Hong Kong received 2,750 calls for help from such people. A year-on-year comparison is not available because the group only started its outreach programme in September 2005. But it said the number of inquiries had risen 13.5 per cent - from 851 in the fourth quarter of 2005 to 972 in the same period last year.

'They don't know where to seek help when they lack blankets for the winter. Some go to the nearest community service centres but these institutes reserve their resources for their members,' said Roy Lam Man-chiu, the group's assistant executive director.

It is not clear how severe the problem is among the 115,223 elderly counted in the latest by-census as living by themselves.

But Mr Lam estimated about 40 per cent of the aged population in Sham Shui Po and Kwun Tong live alone.

The plight of the hermit elderly came to light after calls by the social welfare sector for Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen to increase funding on services for the elderly, given the government's strong financial position.

Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, the legislator representing the welfare sector, expects more money will be allocated for the elderly.

But he said the government should not just tackle the problem with 'a traditional quantitative approach'.

'The government imposes quotas on its subsidised institutions, like how many cases they should help in a year, but sometimes the quality of the services is compromised because of this,' he said.

Dr Cheung proposed funding be allocated to establish a team of professional counsellors and psychologists to provide a more in-depth solution for the hermit elderly, who he said were more prone to psychological problems.