Public asked for views on how to deal with Hong Kong's ageing population

Advisers urge the government to reach out to young people who will bear the burden of looming financial problems

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 7:53am

The views of Hongkongers are to be sought on ways to tackle problems posed by the city's ageing population. The consultation may cover questions over imported labour and the role of mainland parents' babies.

Advisers on the Steering Committee on Population Policy have urged the government to follow the lead of Germany, which is reaching out through social media to the younger generation who will bear the burden.

A source close to the government said it hoped to form consensus on short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions.

"The consultation, which will start in September, hopes to derive clear directions for the future policies," the source said. "Should we rely on 'foreign players' to deal with job mismatches? Should we boost the birth rate or rely on the local-born babies of mainland parents?"

Should we rely on 'foreign players' to deal with job mismatches? Should we boost the birth rate or rely on the local-born babies of mainland parents?

The source said the latter would require further planning as demand for housing was likely to increase.

Other considerations may include incentives for local parents to raise the birth rate, and how the ageing generation can manage their wealth.

"I think the government should exhaust all channels to reach out, including Facebook," committee member and demographic expert at Chinese University, Professor Shen Jianfa, said.

"The youngsters are the ones who will be affected. They have every right to raise their views," Shen said.

Another member and population specialist at the University of Hong Kong, Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, urged the government to "think out of the box".

"I think social media would be a good way to spread the message," he said.

In Germany, a country expected to face similar problems to Hong Kong by 2040, the federal government last month launched a campaign of forums, research, surveys and exhibitions to encourage public debate on demographic changes and solutions.

Social media channels like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube have been used as platforms for discussion.

Hong Kong and Germany will see a third of their populations made up of people aged 65 or older by 2040 and the size of the workforce will shrink from more than half to about 48 per cent, which means there will be only two people of working age supporting one elderly person.

The shrinkage in Hong Kong is even faster. The first baby boomers here retired in 2012, three years earlier than those in Germany.

Yip projected that the impact on the workforce would become more obvious from 2018.

While Hong Kong is still waiting for the steering committee to come up with new policies, the federal government in Germany mapped out a strategy last year and more concrete proposals will be announced after the completion of its second-round consultation in May.

Germany will postpone the retirement age from 65 to 67 before 2030, but will do so by one or two months a year to make it more acceptable to the public.

Shen said such an approach could work in Hong Kong.

"People tend to be more receptive to controversial policies executed at a later stage. The government can minimise opposition voices if it makes a future policy decision now," he said.