Ageing society

Hong Kong near bottom of world ranking for psychological health for the elderly

While city came in 19th for overall well-being, critics say government must do more to get people working later in life and provide universal pensions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 8:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 12:18pm

The psychological health of Hong Kong’s elderly has been ranked close to the bottom in the world, despite a government initiative to allow them to travel around the city for a flat HK$2 fare.

The AgeWatch Index, compiled by the Chinese University Jockey Club Institute of Ageing, found the city ranked 19th among 97 countries or territories last year in terms of the overall well-being of elderly people.

While Hong Kong ranked high in physical safety and civic freedom and top in access to public transport, it fared poorly in pension coverage and relative psychological well-being – coming in 60th and 79th respectively.

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Gerontologists argue it is time for the city to increase the retirement age and rethink how to bring the elderly back into society after they have retired, either through voluntary or involuntary means.

“Until very recently, when you got to be 60 or 65, you were out of society ... If life expectancy is increasing all the time, [retirees] could end up with 30 years without anything to do if you do not raise the retirement age,” said Professor Jean Woo Ling-fong, director of the S.H. Ho Centre for Gerontology and Geriatrics at Chinese University.

“The fact that you feel valued is very important in psychological well-being.”

A lot of employers refused to hire those over 70 as it was hard to buy insurance for them, but that “undesirable situation” should change, she said.

Woo said the city should provide flexible part-time jobs instead of just volunteering work for the elderly so “they do not need to work for nothing” and could better maximise their capabilities.

Dr Wong Hung from Chinese University’s social work department said the government had not done enough to create an age-friendly society despite offering HK$2 flat fares for travelling on the MTR, buses and ferries.

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The lack of a universal pension scheme was one of the core reasons which left many older people feeling insecure following their retirement, he said.

Labour Party lawmaker-elect Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung agreed, saying some 30 per cent of older residents were left in poverty even with the existence of various social protection schemes.

“There are so many elderly people on the streets collecting cardboard boxes,” Cheung lamented, adding the lack of sufficient quality homes for the elderly had also greatly affected their psychological health.

The Global AgeWatch Index, put together by NGO HelpAge International, is a multi-dimensional index which assesses the social and economic well-being of elderly populations in over 90 countries. However, Hong Kong is excluded because it is not a country.

The Chinese University Jockey Club Institute of Ageing decided to compile its own AgeWatch Index for Hong Kong last year. It uses the HelpAge International methodology to investigate the well-being of older city residents.

Hong Kong ranked 24th in 2014. Wong said this year’s improvement was mainly caused by changes in other places.