Public opinion to be sought on city's ageing population crisis

Consultation will seek ideas to boost long-term workforce but 'sensitive' proposal to attract mainland parents of HK babies is dropped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 3:07am

Solutions to the city's ageing- population crisis will be up for discussion this month as the public's views are sought on how to replenish the shrinking workforce and boost the fertility rate.

The exercise will also tackle the need to care for increasing numbers of old people and of children who are separated from their mainland parents, sources close to the government say.

It is estimated that by 2041 one in three Hongkongers will be elderly.

Ahead of the public consultation, the government's population advisers decided not to adopt a controversial idea to attract hundreds of thousands of mainland parents of Hong Kong babies to settle in the city through a talent admission scheme.

The timing was too sensitive, sources said. They did not elaborate, but some parents are frustrated their children must compete with those from the mainland for kindergarten education.

Anthony Wong Kin-wai, chief research officer of the Council of Social Service, who supports the idea, said: "Bringing mainland parents to the city would give their children a healthy upbringing, which would avoid creating social problems. Like it or not, the children are Hong Kong residents."

The consultation is intended to allay negative sentiments about mainlanders, sources say.

The proposed solutions follow year-long discussions by the 11 government advisers and senior officials on the steering committee on population policy, led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The local workforce, now increasing, will start to decline in 2018, Census and Statistics Department data shows.

Statisticians project a 200,000 drop in the workforce, from 3.7 million in 2018 to 3.5 million in 2032. By 2041, the number of people aged at least 65 would triple.

Options discussed include setting up schools across the border so children born in the city can live there with their parents; and acknowledging the education and work qualifications of mainland mothers on one-way permits to live with their families.

Other ideas include subsidies for childless couples to help them conceive; and fewer obstacles for those who say they are discouraged from having children.

Nearly 60 per cent of mainland parents with Hong Kong babies had attained post-secondary education, department surveys from 2007 to 2011 found.

Wong Kwok-kin, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council manpower panel, said the admission scheme was worth exploring. "It can be done by introducing a quota system and setting more stringent admission requirements," he said.

But Deng Donghao, a university-educated Shenzhen parent who works in light manufacturing, said he would not consider moving. "Many mainland talents have developed their own careers," he said.