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Age discrimination in Hong Kong employment

Prof Chan at the Engage symposium.

“If we don’t engage older people to work and be in the community, we don’t have enough labour to sustain the economy,” shared Prof Alfred Chan of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Hong Kong, in his recent keynote address at EngAGE symposium at Temasek Polytechnic. He added that if people retire at age 60 or later at 65, which are the retirement ages in a number of developed countries, there would be less people engaged in the workforce. And to make matters worse, in 50 years’ time, there will be one person supporting a family of six rather than the current one supporting two in a family.

He added that there are many ways countries are dealing with an ageing population including increasing pension amounts but that have not been altogether smooth, particularly in the European Union where there was unrest. Governments have also looked at promoting increased fertility. “It is not for the Government to say … and for women, would you want three children as this is what it takes to replace the population?” Other options that are on the table include opening up immigration. “However in 50 years’ time, people don’t want their people to leave their countries as they will be much needed.”

Prof Chan said that there are other options to maintain the labour force such as opening up more part-time opportunities for seniors and raising the retirement age which is the most practical way. However, he said what age should we then retire? “Would you hire at 100, probably not.” He said that Governments would not stipulate the age that one should retire but leave it to companies to decide. “If the company is willing to hire and you are willing to work, the Government will support this.” He though stopped short of the idea of having no retirement age, saying: “For the employees, some may still want a definite time allowing them (lawfully) to retire, and for policy-making, employers or the Government need a ‘marker’ for their plans such as staffing, recruitment and training policies.”

Prof Chan said that we are moving towards a knowledge-based economy instead of using muscle to work, and hence, we will need to depend on knowledge and brain power, which is where someone older with experience can contribute. “Young people should understand the seniors have wisdom and knowledge, and older people need to keep learning and using technology.”

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Quality of life is more important than extension of life

Patrick Cheung, right, shares his perspectives during the Modern Aging launch.

At the Modern Aging launch, I heard Patrick Cheung, founder and honorary executive director of The Jade Club, a social enterprise based in Hong Kong that is tackling elderly care challenges in Greater China, touch on the importance of quality of life.

He shared this with me in an e-mail after the event: “Quality of life is more important than extension of life. Most governments use majority of their budget in saving life at hospitals rather than improving quality of life at old age. Hong Kong specifically needs to focus on this area and look at ageing-in-place. Being able to die at home surrounded with your loved one is much better than dying in the hospital.

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A tale of two cities

The global phenomenon of what some are calling a “silver tsunami” – a population boom of an elderly generation aged 65 and above – is beginning to appear in most of the developed countries’ demography, no less in Singapore. To meet our changing demographic demands, our physical and social infrastructures have to be developed to meet the needs of the coming generation of elderly and create an all-inclusive society.

Understanding the need for a socially-sustainable design model, CPG Healthcare (which is based in Singapore and specialises in designing and delivering creative, innovative and sustainable healthcare buildings in Asia) initiated an architectural practice-based research study in a three-part series, comparing the two similar Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, to develop a sustainable design approach for the coming generation of seniors. This article will touch on Part 1 – the learning from Hong Kong, while subsequent articles will delve into Singapore and what was learned from looking at the two cities:


Part 1: Learning from Hong Kong

Being a globalised Asian society, Hong Kong’s societal context bears much resemblance to that of Singapore. Currently, Hong Kong’s elderly comprises 14 percent of their overall population, accounting for 996,000 people out of a total population size of seven million, according to statistics. This is ahead of Singapore’s elderly population that stands at 12 percent currently, or 600,000 people out of a population of five million. Continue Reading…

Elderly care in Hong Kong – the challenges & opportunities

Can you imagine, if you intend to have a bed at a residential home for elderly in Hong Kong, you would have to wait for around 39 months? And, if you wish to apply for elderly care services, you would probably have to visit several offices of different Government departments before you are offered the services? 

Hong Kong has the highest rate of institutionalised elderly (of around eight percent), when compared with other countries like USA and UK who are around three percent to four percent. So why do elderly in Hong Kong love to be institutionalised?

According to the Census projection in Hong Kong, it is expected in about 25 years, the percentage of the elderly population here would increase to 25 percent to 28 percent, meaning about one fourth of the total population would be elderly in Hong Kong at 2033.


Challenges of elderly care

As a Chinese society, filial piety has been a long belief that can foster quality care to the elderly. However, the following challenges are faced by elderly care in Hong Kong:

  1. Busy working lives – Even as they age, the spouse and children of the elderly have to work long hours before they can go home to take care of the elderly.
  2. Limited residential space – This prevents the elderly from being properly cared in their own homes. Worse still, their homes cannot accommodate a wheelchair.
  3. Intention of not to bother family members by the elderly – Elderly in Hong Kong are very considerate that they do not want to bother their families, choosing instead to live by themselves.
  4. Increasingly frail elderly population – Around 15 percent of the elderly suffer from chronic illness, whilst eight percent of those aged 80 suffer from dementia. These figures are set to increase as the population continues to age.
  5. Shortage of para-professionals (such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists) and nurses – Elderly institutions are not granted license if they lack sufficient para-medical staff. This means an added pressure to existing elderly institutions with their waiting lists for the elderly continuing to grow and the wait becomes longer. 

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