Be generous to those who helped build HK

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2010, 12:00am

Respect for the elderly is a principle and value which is deservedly ingrained in the conscience of a large majority of Hongkongers. This city was not always a booming financial centre, and the generation before us had to toil hard at manual-labour jobs in order to lay the foundations of the thriving metropolis that Hong Kong has now become. Although there is no formal pension, the government provides a number of services for the elderly such as residential care and community centres, while also supporting NGOs. The mission statement of the Social Welfare Department's elderly services division is to 'enable our elders to live in dignity and to provide necessary support for them to promote their sense of belonging, sense of security and sense of worthiness.'

An increasing number of our elderly are now choosing to live across the border, either because living expenses are lower there, or because they wish to return to their hometown and spend their last years with the family they grew up with before they came to Hong Kong.

And yet this entirely logical and natural arrangement would effectively disqualify the estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Hong Kong elderly across the border from receiving the old age allowance, commonly known as 'fruit money' - which consists of a monthly HK$1,000 allowance. Anyone aged 70 or above is entitled to the allowance, but they must have lived in Hong Kong for at least 90 days the year before. Since the allowance is not based on means, and the small sum would not go far towards aiding financial hardship, presumably the spirit of this policy is to be non-discriminating in its offer of respect.

But how does taking away their right to an allowance just because they settled closer to family or in a location with a lower cost of living help promote their 'sense of belonging, sense of security and sense of worthiness'?

The government is now considering relaxing the eligibility criteria from having to spend 90 days in the city to 60 days, but any onerous eligibility criteria apart from age would violate the spirit of 'fruit money'. Hong Kong is a rich city; it can be generous to those who helped build it.