Retirement protection a human right: elderly hope after decades of contributions Hong Kong will take care of them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 3:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 10:38am

Retirement protection might be seen as a poverty alleviation matter, but many elderly Hongkongers hope the society will recognise their contribution to the city and their right to be taken care of in old age.

Watt Kwong-ho, 85, and his 81-year-old wife Mak Shiu-kuen both worked until their mid-70s to save up for retirement. They won’t be eligible for the HK$3,230 monthly pension as their assets are over the HK$125,000 limit for a couple.

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“We are old already, so there shouldn’t be a means test – how many more years can we eat [up government expenses] anyway?,” said Mak. “I guess we’ll just live very simply and spend very frugally. We’ll think of what to do when our savings dry up.”

The couple live in a Tai Kok Tsui tenement flat they own, and both have long-term illnesses – a situation that is eating up their savings even quicker, said Mak.

She said that even if she is eligible, she will refuse to apply for a pension, as she finds the idea of a means test degrading. “I’ve lived in Hong Kong for so many years. I’ve always been clean as a whistle,” she said, querying why the government needs to be so harsh.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday sidestepped a question on whether retirement protection should be seen as a human right, saying: “I don’t think that we should labour ourselves with this sort of ideology ... whether it’s a matter of right or a poverty alleviation policy.”

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However, the public consultation document emphasised poverty alleviation effectiveness of various options, and the government’s “reservations” over a universal pension as it would not be targeted towards the poor.

Kwok Chih-yin, an 83-year-old widower, was angered by the government’s stance: “I think this is a human right. We’ve worked hard all these years, but to have the government say we don’t have the right to ask for a pension, to live without worrying about the next meal, is atrocious. How dare they treat the elderly like this.”

Kwok would be eligible for the non-universal pension option, having less than HK$80,000 in assets, aside from his old tenement flat in Sham Shui Po. But he said most elderly do not want to go through a means test and would rather not claim the benefit.

“I don’t think the government understand our minds. Who likes to ask for money if they don’t need it?,” he said. The public consultation exercise merely a delaying tactic, said Kwok, and the government should just admit that it doesn’t want to do it.