The government must do more to help those caring for the elderly
One of the city’s biggest challenges is its ageing population, and the current policies in place to face this are inadequate
The ageing of the population has not received the policy and planning attention it deserves. The growth in the number of elderly is outpacing our response. Policymakers will neglect the trend at the peril of our claim to be a caring society. The public and private sector alike have a role in striking a balance between residential care, day-centre care and home care for the elderly in need.
Elderly caregivers tend to be the unsung heroes of a greying society. Close to a third of the elderly, now put at more than a million in total, are cared for by their spouses. Tragically, a case in point is an 80-year-old man accused of strangling his chronically ill wife at a Shau Kei Wan public housing estate, after declining help from social workers. Rightly, this has prompted the city’s new welfare minister, Dr Law Chi-kwong, to call for a fresh look at the support network for the tens of thousands of elderly caregivers.
Hong Kong has nearly seven and a half million people, of whom 16 per cent, or more than a million, are elderly, a number which will rise to 24 per cent or about two million by 2025. The demographic realities, absent a state pension or an adequate mandatory pension savings scheme, are that many will need help to live their later years in dignity. Law believes a flexible package of individually tailored home-care and day-care-centre services, for which at present there is nearly a year’s wait, would help struggling families, along with the development of more elderly sitter services and the lifting of the 24-metre fire-safety height limit on residential care institutions to encourage more construction. An average wait of 26 months for subsidised nursing home places saw nearly 6,000 people in the queue die in 2015. The minister’s call for an inquiry into the Shau Kei Wan tragedy, once any court proceedings end, is strongly supported by the chairman of the Elderly Commission, Dr Lam Ching-choi, who said the incident reflected a severe shortfall in community-based support for elderly carers. This is a social service issue. On the wider issue of day-centre and residential care, it will be up to the public and private sectors to strike a balance between the interests of investors, taxpayers and clients in meeting the elderly care challenge.