Hong Kong must first tackle present problems before looking to future

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 4:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 5:04pm

Government initiatives to tackle the issues of the ageing population and low birth rate in Hong Kong are long overdue.

However, before we think about the future challenges from a workforce shortage, we should first solve the current problems besieging our society. The government recently drew a poverty line, which shows a shocking and increasing number of the city's population living in poverty. Increasing the population without solving the current social and economic problems will only cause misery for many more.

Most developed countries will see their population ageing and birth rates declining, often when their people are living very well, regardless of economic wealth measures.

Scandinavian countries are good examples of developed countries where citizens enjoy great health care, private or public education, housing and good work-life balance.

This is in stark contrast to Hong Kong, where perhaps only the top 10 per cent in the income bracket can afford these luxuries. It is no wonder many couples do not want to have children, feel insecure, or can't afford to do so.

A low birth rate in a nation is often interpreted as representing people's pessimism in their country's future during bad economic times.

Planning to increase the population in Hong Kong when we have a critical housing shortage, long queues at everything from kindergartens to hospitals, insufficient social security for the less fortunate and elderly is unthinkable.

Businesses claim there is a shortage of cheap labour, and suggest importing workers. It's terrible enough that many lower-paid Hong Kong workers currently live in appalling conditions, and unimaginable to import more only to house them in subdivided flats, cage homes or containers.

Hongkongers, without work hours legislation, work among the longest hours in the world and are paid notoriously low wages. Two breadwinners are needed in most households. There's a scant social safety net provided by the government in terms of employee rights, retirement benefits (MPF is insufficient) or unemployment benefit. Many professionals have also decided to migrate from Hong Kong, worsening the brain drain problem; they cite the quality of life and high cost of living, among others, as reasons for leaving.

The government should speed up the development and opening of new townships, in the New Territories. Build larger and more affordable homes and not the 300 sq ft cubicles as proposed by some. Cramped living space in city centres is no healthy place to raise children. We must solve today's problems to build a better tomorrow.

Bernard E. S. Lee, Tsuen Wan