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Ageing society

Give family carers better support to allow elderly to age at home, Hong Kong think tank says

Hong Kong Vision wants government to allocate more money to community care rather than institutions where old people live apart from their families

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 10:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 10:50pm

A think tank led by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has called on the government to give family carers better support to achieve its goal of allowing old people to age at home rather than in institutions.

A recent tragedy in which an 80-year-old man killed his chronically ill and disabled wife to end her suffering led to renewed criticism of efforts to implement the policy.

“The government has been ­reiterating ‘ageing in place’ as its core policy, but we cannot see signs of the government caring about it in terms of resource ­allocation,” Ng Kai-hon, a senior researcher for Hong Kong Vision, said.

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Ng was referring to the government’s HK$3.9 billion investment in residential care in 2014-15, which was 3.5 times what it spent on community care.

Citing the relatively high institutionalisation rate of elderly people in Hong Kong – 6.8 per cent – which is double the level of Japan and Singapore, the think tank highlighted deficiencies in the current system to implement “ageing in place”.

While almost 40 per cent of family carers for elderly people were their children, Ng argued the government had not done enough in helping them overcome structural constraints.

These included their long working hours, rising monthly expenses and shrinking incomes, especially if they had to quit their jobs to become full-time carers.

Its report found that elderly people had to wait an average of 10 months to receive home care or centre-based care services. It also found such services to be inflexible as many – including meal ­deliveries – were not available on Sundays and public holidays.

It called on the administration to increase the service quota in home care and day care centres as well as to extend service hours to cover evenings and public holidays so carers could balance their work and family duties.

The think tank also urged the government to regularise the pilot scheme launched by the Community Care Fund, which gives 2,000 carers a means-tested subsidy of HK$2,000 a month. That should be raised to at least HK$2,500, it added.

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Meanwhile, it recommended the government take reference from the Employment Rights Act enacted in Britain, which grants carers the right to request flexible working conditions – such as workplace, working hours and time – after they have been with the same ­employer for 26 weeks.

“Employers are not necessarily required to make corresponding arrangements ... but they can only turn down requests on reasonable grounds,” Ng said.

Jasper Tsang said it was time for the government to review the effectiveness of community services for elderly people.

He said “ageing in place” would be a relatively easy policy for incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to work on given its non-controversial nature.