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  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 11:54pm
NewsHong Kong

Public consultation on ageing population slammed by experts

5-point plan to solve workforce crisis criticised as too vague, with one academic dismissing consultation as a 'failure' just as it is launched

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 8:21am

A proposed five-pronged approach to managing challenges arising from Hong Kong's ageing population came under fire yesterday for being too vague, as a public consultation to look for solutions began.

The five strategies suggested by government advisers seek a more proactive response to the city's shrinking workforce before problems worsen in the future.

Ideas include ways to tap into the inactive population such as housewives and retirees to encourage them to return to the workplace.

But a veteran academic and lawmakers gave a thumbs-down to the report, noting that it posed open questions for the public without giving any concrete proposals.

They also asked whether the government was attempting to avoid incurring public anger by not suggesting any controversial ideas.

Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun of the University of Hong Kong, who is leading a study on pension schemes, described the exercise as a "failure" even as it had only just started.

"It lacks direction and a target for us to see what the government wants to achieve by drafting population policies," he said.

Alarm bells are sounding as the workforce is projected to shrink five years from now. By 2041, only 1.8 people of working age - defined as those between 15 and 64 - will support one dependent elderly person financially, down from a ratio of 5:1 this year.

The proposed strategies include expanding the labour force by encouraging more women and retirees to return to work; enhancing the quality of the workforce by improving education and minimising skills mismatch; searching for global talent and upgrading the labour import system; fostering a supportive environment for raising children; and helping the elderly to stay active in the community.

During the four-month exercise, the public is being asked for responses to 13 questions listed in the consultation report.

"We do not propose measures right away because we want to see if the public will agree on these directions," said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who leads the steering committee on population policy, adding that concrete measures would follow.

Official data shows a potential workforce of 1.6 million who are now economically inactive, including 525,000 women homemakers aged 30 to 59 and 240,200 retirees aged 50 to 64.

Lam said the government was open to any family-friendly measures, including the use of subsidies and tax incentives to encourage more births.

But she warned: "We have to be mindful of the measures' effectiveness while injecting a huge amount of resources, if the city is to keep a low-tax environment. Is encouraging a more flexible working environment, such as part-time jobs, in government and private companies even more effective?"

The report highlights the possibility of attracting residents who had migrated, and their offspring, back to the city. But it barely touched on how 200,000 children born to mainland parents in Hong Kong could be integrated into society, other than by adding seats in schools.

There is also no mention of retirement protection, housing or financial impacts, which Lam said had been studied by other government bodies.

She also made it clear that the government would rule out capping the population, lifting the ban on mainlanders giving birth or tightening the screening of one-way permit applications.

"Hong Kong has no room to control the approval process, according to the Basic Law. The application should also be maintained for family reunion purposes," Lam said.

A former head of the Central Policy Unit, Leo Goodstadt, said support services such as hospital beds and paediatric staff were just as important in encouraging births.

Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, of the Civic Party, said the document was too general and lacked concrete suggestions.



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This article is now closed to comments

With everything so expensive from housing, food, transportation to education, how would u expect young people to raise a kid? Housing is the biggest problem driving everything up.
Perhaps people are not having children because they cannot afford to buy a home, or those who can, have little or no money left over after paying off the mortgage loan on an exhorbitantly priced flat.
My 6 point plan:-
1. Clean up official corruption.
2. Kick the real estate industry out of Exco (and Legco by abolishing the functional
3. Expand public housing and make the flats spacious, pleasant, and affordable not shoe boxes.
4. Broaden the tax base and stop relying on land sales and stamp duty for revenue.
5. Save the Country Parks and Green Belt areas and keep them free of development, as an
increased population will need green space and open country for recreation more than ever.
5. Train the workforce to do quality, skilled jobs, don't import hundreds of thousands of
uneducated, unskilled mainlanders.
6. Initiate social elements into the economic system that gives a proper stake and a fair share
for all in society.
The HK gov’t knows what needs to be done to combat the aging population. It should be obvious to everyone that housing prices need to drop, more child care services are required, and overall just make HK more child-friendly.

So this public consultation is a slap in the face to us. It’s a way of them saying “We know what needs to be done. But we don’t want to do those things. Let’s do something else. What do you think needs to be done? Just don’t suggest the obvious answers, we’re not doing those.”
2. If Hong Kong wants to bring mainland labor forces into Hong Kong, we are saying finally we have resolved all the insoluble restraints that once existed. Sorry, we have not and we can’t. The restraints both by nature and man-made, on the contrary they have become even more sever. We, especially the government is not facing the reality but seems willfully forgetting and ignoring what ill Hong Kong by forging upon us with a new threat -- the aging of a society and the lack of a workforce. Different generation certainly handled the same problem quite differently. We must not forget what really made Hong Kong as one of the Asian Economic Tigers were those industrialists who commuted to mainland and returned to Hong Kong with profits generated from their goods exported that supported and expanded the property sector. Our older generation has certainly survived handsomely.
So after the public consultation, and ExCo takes a decision on policy - will CY & Co explain why they took that decision? Or will they stick to the 'it is confidential' line? Funny how the government's concern about the public only comes out when it suits them (mainly when they need a fig leaf).
Sounds perfectly sensible to me. I am therefore sure the government won't do any of these.
As in any consultation, the parameters are bound to be vague so that the public have more scope to inject ideas. Should concrete suggestions be forwarded by the Government they could be accused of stifling new ideas after having adopted a stance. At the very least the Government realises that there is a problem that will loom in the next few decades and the young will not be able to support the old. Maybe we should focus on providing ideas to the Government and give them fresh impetus.
There will be no consensus. People are selfish as they are concerned that any newcomers will take their jobs or welfare benefits
Also, fix housing first.
Of course it is vague. We have senior govt officials who have no idea what they are doing. They live in a world very different than the little people. "Let them eat cake" is their modus operandi.
"...we want to see if the public will agree on these directions," And how does Carrie Lam propose to canvas public opinion? This always becomes an exercise of asking special interests and lobby groups, not the people.
Instead of government coming up with half baked ideas and waiting to see what the reaction will be, why doesn't it hire a panel of talented people with the right skills and qualifications to produce an informed report?
This is yet another sign that if you only appoint loyal cronies to senior positions, instead of appointing on merit, you exclude the most talented and get poor governance.
This administration is increasingly adopting a mode of government whereby a senior official has an ill-thought out idea, makes a public statement to see the reaction, and if it appears to be not entirely unpopular, it becomes policy. This arbitrariness lies at the heart of public dissatisfaction.



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