Hong Kong’s seniors should not have to scavenge for a living
Ours is an affluent society, yet we turn a blind eye to the many elderly people who pick through rubbish bins to make a measly few hundred dollars a month
There is a sense of pity, even shame, at the sight of an old woman picking through the garbage for scraps of cardboard and paper. Wealth and affluence abound in Hong Kong and there should never be a need for people to stoop to eking out a living in such a way.
But the issue is not always as it seems, with culture, pride and even motivation also at play. For many of our city’s elderly, waking up each day with a sense of purpose, whether to make a little money or keep body and mind active, is all they wish for.
A concern group estimates that at least 2,900 people scavenge through our rubbish each day for items that will earn them money from recyclers.
Its recent survey of 505 people – four-fifths women and 82 per cent aged 60 or above – found that they earned an average of HK$716 a month.
For 60 per cent of those interviewed, their total income, even when coupled with government assistance and other revenue, was still less than HK$5,000 – barely enough to rent a room in a subdivided flat.
Such hardship makes overzealous government street management inspectors appear heartless.
Of the cardboard collectors spoken to, 17 per cent claimed to have been chased away by officers and 9.3 per cent said what they had collected had been confiscated.
In such circumstances, there surely needs to be common sense and respect for the elderly.
The uproar last year, when officers charged a 75-year-old woman for not having a hawker’s licence after she sold a piece of cardboard she had collected to a domestic helper for HK$1, has to serve as a lesson.
Some of the so-called cardboard grannies genuinely need the income; for others, it is just pocket change.
But there is also the reality that in a society that is so hard-working, some elderly people do not even believe in the concept of retirement and doing the rounds of bins keeps them busy and makes them feel useful.
Others think of government aid as being beneath them and as long as they can help themselves, refuse to add to society’s burden.
But no matter what their reason, the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, should be kept in mind: “Care for my own aged parents and extend the same care to the aged parents of others.”