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Ageing society

Hong Kong needs creative solutions to elderly care

The city faces unique constraints in providing options for how people retire, but also enjoys a tremendous advantage – access to the Chinese mainland. The government must be ready to think outside the box in coming up with a strategy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 7:13pm

We all have our ideal retirement lifestyle, be it travelling, volunteering, learning a new hobby or skill, or simply spending more time with family and friends. There are also those who prefer to emigrate to another country. But for many in Hong Kong, all those choices might be a luxury. Our meagre retirement protection means many elderly may still be struggling to make ends meet. And for those who need residential care, the situation can be worse. Unless you are wealthy enough to afford upscale private facilities, you may have to queue up for a place in public or subsidised institutions. The wait is often so long that thousands of people die before they are placed.

But there is an alternative. Since the 1990s, some locals have chosen to retire in Guangdong province, taking advantage of more affordable housing and the rising quality of life fuelled by the Chinese mainland’s economic boom. The reunification in 1997 has made it even easier for people to settle over the border. The option may become even more popular under the “Greater Bay Area” development plan, a national drive to unite the biggest southern cities into a single economic power house.

Gardens and big rooms not enough to lure Hong Kong elderly to mainland

Intriguingly, the response to a pilot residential care scheme in Guangdong by the Hong Kong government is not as good as expected. Just 180 of the 400 places have been taken over the past four years. As reported by the Post, some skipped the wait for a local place and choose the facility run by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation in Shenzhen. Others were drawn by the bigger living space – 400 sq ft per person versus a minimum of 70 sq ft provided here.

Understandably, some elderly people are not confident in the quality of medical care offered on the mainland. They might also be put off by the greater separation from families and friends, even though many cities are no more than an hour away from Hong Kong by bus and train. Our ageing society will see the queue for elderly care only grow longer. We are fortunate to have the cross-border retirement option and should make better use of it. We should perhaps think outside the box when planning for third age living.