Old age allowance

Old age welfare 'all about dignity' says ex-sailor

Retired sailor Chiu See-poon's savings ran out long ago, making welfare his only option

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 4:59am

Ideas on allowances and pensions for the elderly have been tossed around and taken apart by politicians and academics.

But for Chiu See-poon, a former sailor who worked for 54 years before retiring at 74, it is really all about helping the elderly live a decent, dignified life.

Now 86, Chiu has a lot to say about old age benefits in Hong Kong. He thinks a universal pension is the answer, but says the HK$2,200 monthly allowance now being debated can be only a short-term measure.

And he is adamant applicants should not be means-tested.

"[The universal pension is] not for us - we will probably be gone by then - but it is for the future of Hong Kong," he says.

"Means tests are degrading and will affect [the elderly's] relationships with their families."

Chiu himself has been on welfare about nine years now.

Despite his years of labour and a move into public housing soon after his retirement, his savings did not last long.

Opting to be on the dole strips many old people of their dignity, he says.

Chiu started off with the British Navy in 1946 and switched to commercial ships after 10 years.

From the 1950s to late 80s, he travelled the world. "I loved South America. They loved the Chinese!" he recalls. "If I could, I'd like to visit again someday."

He retired as a sailor in 1988 and moved on to the Mariners' Club in Tsim Sha Tsui until his final retirement in 2000.

"I loved working, earning my own keep and spending my own money. Looking back, of course, I wished I'd saved more, but back then I was never taught how.

"It was really hard when my savings dried up and I had to apply for welfare." Many elderly people are in the same situation.

Housewives who have never worked or manual labourers do not save much, he says. If they have no family, they are left to the mercy of society.

A retired Chiu, not content with a life of chess and mahjong, does voluntary work with the Catholic charity Caritas. He also speaks up for elderly rights at the Council of Social Service.

He recalls a certain Uncle Chan, whom he was assigned to help 12 years ago. "He had terminal cancer and was so skinny. The room was very dark and I remember thinking, 'I should just back out.' But he saw me standing at the door, so I had to go in."

He died three months later, but not before Chiu helped reconnect him with his family. "His sister phoned to thank me. She said in his last days, he had people around him."

For Chiu, helping people became his pride and motivation.

He hopes people can recognise the elderly have much to give. "All these policies, whether it's welfare or this new elderly allowance, it's not just money. None of us feel good taking welfare or expecting to eat without paying.

"The government says 400,000 elderly will benefit from [the allowance], but I think less than half would apply if there's a means test," Chiu said.