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Gov't committed to active ageing

February 28, 2014


Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung

Active ageing refers to optimising opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life as people age. In simple terms, it is about how to enable the elderly to stay active, remain healthy, keep fit and more importantly to think positive.


According to the World Health Organisation, elderly people are the fastest-growing age group worldwide. By 2050, 2 billion people - or nearly a quarter of the world's population - will be aged 60 or above.


As a result of the improvement in health and shrinking fertility rates, Hong Kong is no exception and is facing a steadily ageing population. In 2012, the life expectancy in Hong Kong has increased to 81 years for men and 86 years for women, almost the highest in the world. And the figures will rise to 85 years for men and 91 years for women in 2041.


At present, Hong Kong's elderly population stands at slightly above 1 million, meaning that one out of seven Hong Kong people is aged 65 or above. This ratio will rise to a staggering one in three by 2041.


No doubt, an ageing population poses challenges to our healthcare, social welfare and elderly-care services systems. However, we must never forget that, with proper planning, these challenges are not insurmountable. And with challenges always come opportunities.


The Hong Kong SAR Government is committed to building a caring society for all, including the elderly people. The estimated recurrent expenditure on elderly care services in 2014-15 amounts to about $6.2 billion, representing 10.9% of the total recurrent social welfare expenditure.


Taking into account the spending on social security and healthcare services, government recurrent expenditure for the elderly amounts to a substantial $56.3 billion, representing 18.3% of the total government recurrent expenditure.


Active living promoted

We believe that enabling more of our elderly to stay active and healthy is the key to the future sustainability of the healthcare and social welfare systems. Early intervention to promote an active life can also reduce the proportion of elderly becoming frail at an early stage.


The elderly today and, of course, those of the future generations will be healthier and more energetic. They will also be better connected to society, better educated, more independent in planning and taking care of their needs.


In fact, most of the elderly in Hong Kong are self-reliant, with less than 7% of them requiring assistance at different levels in performing activities of daily living. All these open up new economic and social opportunities for this group as well as for the community as a whole. This is also where the concepts of active ageing and silver hair market come in.


Over the years, the Hong Kong SAR Government has been upholding and advocating the concept of active ageing in our policymaking.


We aim to encourage the elderly of various capacities to stay healthy, active and independent. In this respect, please allow me to share with you some of our new and ongoing initiatives in enhancing the well-being of the elderly here.


Health is no doubt one of the most important determining factors in the quality of life of the elderly. Our heavily subsidised health-care system provides affordable and comprehensive healthcare services through public hospitals and clinics for our seniors.


Surely active ageing is not only about healthcare, but also about active and continuing participation in social and community affairs.


Lifelong learning

We believe that age is no barrier to learning. The Elder Academy Scheme, launched in 2007 together with the Elderly Commission, enables the elderly to pursue continued learning in a school setting.


Some elderly people aspire to study in university despite their age and we want to help their dreams come true. We therefore expanded the scheme in 2008 to tertiary institutions.


Together with the Elder Academies in primary and secondary schools, there are now altogether 108 Elder Academies throughout the territory, providing over 10,000 learning places every year.


The Elder Academies provide diversified courses to meet the needs and interests of the elderly. These range from healthy living, tai chi, leisure and art, IT applications, to elderly investment and financial management.


To foster inter-generational harmony, we encourage the Elder Academies to engage students as teaching assistants or to take part in a range of extra-curricular activities. For instance, the City University of Hong Kong has in place a "buddy scheme" by arranging students to be the "buddies" of elderly students to facilitate their adaptation to school lives and also to introduce to them the learning facilities on the campus.


We have just injected an additional $50 million into the scheme. This should enable more elderly to pursue lifelong learning so that they may lead a more fulfilled life.


Neighbourhood networks

Active ageing is more than just giving an opportunity to elderly people to learn. It is also about providing a platform for them to share the wisdom and wealth of their experience. To this end, the Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project was launched in 2008 to provide such a platform.


With the elderly playing a leading role, the project mobilises different organisations and individuals who are interested in serving the community to develop caring and support networks at the community level and enable the elderly to become a new driving force in the community.


A new phase of the project commenced in 2012 with two themes, namely enhancing neighbourhood support networks and promoting family responsibility. A total of 69 district projects are being carried out between 2012 and this year.


Enhanced mobility

We do not simply stop at providing opportunities or platforms for the elderly to stay active. To encourage the elderly to be truly socially mobile and connected, we have launched the very popular $2 Fare Scheme, to be precise the Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme.


The scheme enables the elderly to travel on most public transport at a concessionary flat fare of $2 per trip. The number of average daily trips made by the elderly so far is 590, 000, which is pretty substantial.


We are currently working with the trade and Octopus Cards Limited with a view to extending the Scheme to over 3 000 green fixed-route minibuses in phases starting from early 2015.


Senior citizen concessions

Respect for the elderly is a highly cherished virtue, especially in the Chinese community. To promote this spirit, we have been issuing Senior Citizen Cards to local residents aged 65 or above since 1994.


With the card, elderly persons can have access to various concessions, discounts or priority services offered by government departments, public companies, private and commercial establishments.


While this is a small gesture to show our respect and care for our senior citizens, what we also aim to achieve is to strengthen the sense of belonging to the community of our elderly and build a truly caring and cohesive community.


The scheme has been well received by both the elderly and the wider community. There are now more than 950,000 cardholders and about 2,600 participating companies with over 17,000 outlets.


Welfare portability

Let me now turn to our welfare benefits and care services. Quality and choices are what we are striving for. The Old Age Allowance - widely called the "fruit money" - has been available to the elderly aged 70 or above for several decades, regardless of their means.


We understand that some elderly who have their family ties in Mainland China, particularly in Guangdong, may wish to choose to retire there. As Guangdong is the preferred choice for most of these elderly, we launched the Guangdong Scheme last year so that they can receive the allowance without having to return to Hong Kong to satisfy the local residence requirement and can continue to enjoy the support of their family members, friends and neighbours both in Hong Kong and the Mainland.


To further support these elderly, we will seriously explore later this year the feasibility of extending the Old Age Living Allowance, which is about twice the amount of the "fruit money", to our eligible senior citizens living in Guangdong.


Apart from welfare benefits, we are prepared to take another step forward by making our care services "portable" to the Mainland. This year, we will launch a pilot scheme to purchase places from an elderly home in Shenzhen, just across the boundary and run by a Hong Kong non-governmental organisation.


We are also exploring similar arrangements with another home in Zhaoqing in Guangdong. We believe that the purchased places will provide an additional option for elderly persons who are on our waiting list for subsidised residential care places.


Ageing in place

Let me get back to our elderly care services in Hong Kong. Most of our elderly prefer to age at home in their community. We recognise that the adequate provision of community care and support services is the key to achieve this.


Since 2012-13, we have allocated $900 million under the Lotteries Fund to enhance the physical setting and facilities of more than 230 elderly centres throughout the territory in phases.


Having improved the hardware, we plan to allocate an additional recurrent provision of $160 million to all subvented elderly centres to further enhance the support for the elderly, as well as to process care needs assessment and service applications for long-term care services. Support services for elderly with dementia and their carers will also be strengthened.


Vouchers offer choice

Under the cardinal principle of ageing in place, we provide our senior citizens with diversified choices through a range of flexible modes of subsidy and service delivery.


Last year, we launched the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly so that they may choose community care services that suit their own needs.

Arising from the implementation of this pilot scheme, it is considered opportune to explore the feasibility of a residential care service voucher scheme for the elderly.


To take this forward, we have tasked the Elderly Commission to explore the feasibility of introducing such a voucher scheme. In this connection, the Government has earmarked $800 million for issuing a total of 3,000 vouchers in phases from 2015-16 to 2017-18.


I have briefly outlined our multifaceted and wide-ranging measures to enable the elderly to age well and actively. However, they are not meant to be exhaustive. While resources and hardware are essential, what is fundamental, if I may say so, is the mindset.


It is vitally important for us to embrace the challenges of our ageing population proactively and collectively.


Secretary for Labour & Welfare Matthew Cheung gave these remarks at the Overcoming Challenges in Active Ageing 2014 conference organised by the Technological & Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong and the Vocational Training Council.