El­derly cri­sis deep­ens as cross-bound­ary op­tion ends

Zhou Mo finds ris­ing health­care costs driven by stronger yuan are cited as most sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to mov­ing across bound­ary, ex­ac­er­bat­ing the sharp in­crease in num­ber of over-65s in HK.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS - Con­tact the writer at sally@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Liv­ing across the bound­ary used to be a pop­u­lar op­tion among el­derly peo­ple in Hong Kong who had to en­dure years of painful wait­ing for a place at a lo­cal nurs­ing home.

A larger liv­ing space, lower cost of liv­ing and a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment were among fac­tors prompt­ing lo­cal se­niors to move to the Chi­nese main­land and spend their days there.

How­ever, in re­cent years the num­ber of Hong Kong el­derly peo­ple choos­ing to re­side on the main­land has been de­creas­ing.

Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the yuan against the Hong Kong dol­lar has in­creased the cost bur­den for Hong Kong el­derly peo­ple. Liv­ing on the main­land is no longer a cheap choice, as they are not able to en­joy the main­land’s so­cial wel­fare ser­vices and must use their sav­ings for daily ex­penses.

The Hong Kong gov­ern­ment launched the Guang­dong Scheme in Oc­to­ber 2013, of­fer­ing an Old Age Al­lowance of HK$1,325 per month to el­i­gi­ble Hong Kong el­derly peo­ple aged 65 or above who choose to re­side in Guang­dong province but a de­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple draw it ev­ery year.

The Hong Kong So­cial Wel­fare De­part­ment said 14,600 peo­ple ben­e­fited from the pol­icy in 2016/17, down 15 per­cent from the 17,194 recorded in 2013/14.

The num­ber of Por­ta­ble Com­pre­hen­sive So­cial Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Scheme re­cip­i­ents has also de­clined. The scheme lets el­i­gi­ble CSSA (Com­pre­hen­sive So­cial Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance) re­cip­i­ents aged 60 or above con­tinue re­ceiv­ing cash as­sis­tance at the monthly stan­dard rate and an­nual long-term sup­ple­ment if they choose to re­side in Guang­dong or Fu­jian prov­inces.

In 2015/2016, 1,733 peo­ple en­joyed the wel­fare — 25 per­cent fewer than the 2,304 in the year 2012/13.

Cross-bound­ary res­i­den­tial care

Hong Kong Jockey Club Shen­zhen So­ci­ety for Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Yee Hong Heights (YHH) is a Shen­zhen-based res­i­den­tial care ser­vice cen­ter backed by the Hong Kong So­ci­ety for Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion in Hong Kong.

It is one of the two places im­ple­ment­ing the Pi­lot Res­i­den­tial Care Ser­vices Scheme in Guang­dong.

Launched in June 2014, the scheme pro­vides an op­tion for Hong Kong el­derly peo­ple who are on the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion gov­ern­ment’s Cen­tral Wait­ing List for sub­si­dized care­and-at­ten­tion places at nurs­ing homes to re­ceive res­i­den­tial care ser­vices at YHH in Shen­zhen or the Hong Kong Jockey Club Help­ing Hand Zhao­qing Home for the El­derly in Zhao­qing, west of Guangzhou, which is a mem­ber of the 11-city clus­ter in the Guang­dong-Hong Kong-Ma­cao Greater Bay Area.

As of Sept 21, 165 se­niors from Hong Kong were liv­ing in the Shen­zhen res­i­den­tial care ser­vices cen­ter, of which 116 were sub­si­dized by the gov­ern­ment. The re­main­ing 49 were self-paid el­derly.

The monthly fee for a place in a two-bed suite with com­pre­hen­sive nurs­ing care ser­vices is 7,350 yuan ($1,108). The cost rises to 8,330 yuan if spe­cial nurs­ing care ser­vices are needed.

“Tak­ing nurs­ing care on the main­land, es­pe­cially in such places as Shen­zhen and Guangzhou, is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­af­ford­able for or­di­nary peo­ple,” said 73-year-old Wong Chike­ung.

Wong lives in a nurs­ing home in Dong­guan, an­other city in the Greater Bay Area. He pays 3,000 yuan per month.

“Com­pared with Hong Kong, the liv­ing cost in Dong­guan is lower. But you can only say so if you don’t see doc­tors. When you get ill and go to the hos­pi­tal, the large amount of med­i­cal fees will im­me­di­ately raise your ex­pense to a high level.”

Lost con­nec­tions

Apart from ris­ing costs, a re­duc­tion in con­nec­tions with the main­land is also keep­ing Hong Kong el­derly peo­ple from go­ing north.

“Many Hong Kong peo­ple of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions came to the city from the main­land sev­eral decades ago. They have 10,000

close links to the main­land and are will­ing to re­turn there after re­tire­ment,” said Jackie Mok, head of YHH nurs­ing home in Shen­zhen.

“But those gen­er­a­tions are grad­u­ally pass­ing away. The new gen­er­a­tion of el­derly peo­ple who were born and grew up in Hong Kong pre­fer to stay in the city rather than mov­ing to an un­fa­mil­iar place when they be­come old.”

Wendy Man, vice-chair­man of Clif­ford Group, which owns Clif­ford Care Home for the el­derly in Guangzhou, sug­gested main­land nurs­ing homes fur­ther im­prove their pro­fes­sion­al­ism in pro­vid­ing car­ing ser­vices and work on po­si­tion­ing

their op­er­a­tions.

The di­min­ish­ing en­thu­si­asm for cross-bound­ary el­derly care among Hong Kong se­niors could mean the city will face a heav­ier bur­den in deal­ing with its aging prob­lem, as its el­derly pop­u­la­tion grows. The Hong Kong Cen­sus and Sta­tis­tics De­part­ment says the num­ber of peo­ple aged 65 or above com­prised 16 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion last year. The fig­ure is pro­jected to reach 36 per­cent in 40 years’ time.

Pro­fes­sor He­lene Fung Hoilam from Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong, who re­searched aging is­sues in Hong Kong, said in her ob­ser­va­tion some of the el­derly in Hong Kong are look­ing

at low-liv­ing cost res­i­dences in Tai­wan or South­east Asia when plan­ning their re­tire­ment. Not­ing the gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives in the newly re­leased Pol­icy Ad­dress, Fung said author­i­ties have strived to make the aging care lad­der eas­ier to climb by as­sist­ing and fund­ing com­mu­nity and house­hold care.

Hong Kong is a so­ci­ety with low tax rates, which makes it un­re­al­is­tic to im­ple­ment a fully fledged uni­ver­sal pen­sion sys­tem, Fung said.

In re­al­ity, the gov­ern­ment has man­aged to pro­vide more op­tions for those with di­verse needs.

“The gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy di­rec­tion should ac­cord pri­or­ity to the pro­vi­sion of home care and com­mu­nity care, sup­ple­mented by res­i­den­tial care,” the Pol­icy Ad­dress read.

Gray surge

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