Ageing society

Could Singapore’s ‘ageing in place’ experiment be a model for Hong Kong?

But besides better urban planning to co-locate senior care services in housing estates, community bonds must be strengthened

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 9:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 3:33pm

In the residential estate of Whampoa near downtown Singapore, a fifth of the estate’s population is over the age of 60.

But it is by no means a place that lacks vitality. Under a groundbreaking experiment called Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA) by the Tsao Foundation, Whampoa is a place where seniors can grow old in their own homes and continue to interact with the familiar faces and sights in the neighbourhood.

Ignored, overburdened and at risk of burnout – what can be done for Hong Kong’s carers?

There is a senior day care centre and mobile clinic in the estate, and the foundation – a non-profit group specialising in ageing issues – has tried to screen old folk to identify who is at risk in terms of their physical health, mental and emotional well-being and social situation.

Tsao Foundation works closely with grass-roots groups to organise activities for seniors, so they can keep busy and socialise. It also encourages healthy seniors to be volunteer befrienders and visit those who are less mobile, serving as the “eyes and ears” on the ground for social workers.

The Lion City’s successful social experiment begs the question of whether Hong Kong should move faster towards implementing community-based elderly care.

Last year, when residents moved into On Tat estate – one of the city’s newest public housing estates for some 23,500 people – they were shocked to find no designated site within the neighbourhood for elderly home care service providers.

The Christian Family Service Centre has been delivering meals from their Kwun Tong centre to senior residents living in the new estate in Sau Mau Ping, a 20-minute drive away.

A spokeswoman of the Social Welfare Department said it had provided each of the two Kwun Tong-based community care service providers that it liaised with – including Christian Family Service Centre – a private minibus to help with the provision of care to seniors.

In an interview, Hong Kong’s welfare chief Dr Law Chi-kwong agreed that apart from medical services, there needed to be community support for seniors to age in place. Yet community and neighbourly relations were much weaker than before, Law said, as he pledged the government would look into how ties could be strengthened.

The government was also mulling over a plan to force the city’s developers to build elderly care facilities as part of their property projects, he said.

Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, representing the social welfare sector, criticised the administration’s poor urban planning.

“On Tat Estate is not an isolated case. A lot of new estates, such as the Shui Chuen O Estate [in Sha Tin], are all the same and lack welfare planning.”

He added that government policies are needed to foster neighbourhood ties, but expressed pessimism that the Singaporean experience could be replicated easily in Hong Kong.

A similar “befriender” project in some districts by the government’s Community Investment and Inclusion Fund to encourage estate residents to interact and form ties had limited impact, he said.

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But Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said Hong Kong had great potential to develop the estate-based model such as in Singapore’s Whampoa estate, as its residential blocks were usually clustered together and densely populated.

Shiu’s view was that the “livelihood situation and welfare support” in Singapore was different from Hong Kong.

“Over 1.35 million of Hongkongers are living in poverty. We also have very long working hours. It is indeed a bit tough to ask residents to build ties with others in their free time.”