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Ageing society

Pressure on for Hong Kong ‘sandwich generation’ as number of dependants rises

Study finds that those of working age will have to care for 3.1 million children and elderly people in 2034 – a 56 per cent increase from 2015

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 7:00am

Dependants will make up nearly 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s population by 2034, putting the burden on a “sandwich generation” having to take care of both parents and children, a study by the University of Hong Kong and the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association has found.

There are currently 1.71 million people in the city with responsibilities for the young and the old, or around 48 per cent of all people aged between 30 and 59.

But this will grow as the dependent population – elderly people over 64 and children under 15 – reaches 3.1 million in 2034, representing a 56 per cent increase from 2015.

In about 20 years, there will be two working-age adults for every person over 64, according to the study.

How Hong Kong’s outdated care system is failing the elderly

Populations are ageing around the world thanks to lower birth rates and higher life expectancy, but this will be a particular challenge for Hong Kong, which is already densely populated.

The city’s average lifespan is 79.5 years, the third highest in the world after Japan and Switzerland.

As a result, people with obligations to care for the young and old are finding it difficult to cope, particularly in a society that values care for the family.

“We think it is a very imminent issue that we have to address,” Chinese University lecturer Dr Clara Kan said. “Everyone is getting old, but [because of] the culture of [places] like Hong Kong, people are actually making a lot of effort to take care of their parents. Filial piety is something that we treasure.”

Around 84 per cent of “sandwich-generation” members report difficulty in finding helpers to take care of older relatives, the study found.

To address this, the Hong Kong Jockey Club will launch a “Good Hand” elderly care service app to connect people in need with non-profit elderly care groups.

The app will facilitate access to helpers who can provide the elderly with services such as everyday care, rehabilitation therapy and cooking and cleaning services, as well as accompanying them to clinics.

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One woman surnamed Tsui said she was “very frustrated” with the process of seeking services for her 84-year-old grandmother – who was in hospital for two years – while raising her two-year-old child.

“I wanted to keep my grandmother at a home instead of at a facility,” she said, adding she hoped the app would make her life easier.

Kan, the project director for “Good Hand”, said she wanted the app to become a go-to platform for people in need. “It’s like when you want transport, you contact Uber. You want a hotel, you contact AirBnb. You want elderly care services, you contact ‘Good Hand’,” she said.

There are currently four non-profit groups working with the app, which will launch in late April, but the goal is to have 30 on board in three years.

“It’s going to be a long [road], but I really hope that our effort can make a difference,” Kan said.