Chief Secretary Carrie Lam
Care for the elderly is the key priority of this term of the HKSAR Government. And a new bureau, called the Innovation & Technology Bureau, was set up a couple of months ago to seek wider application of innovation and technology, not only in terms of expanding our economy, but also to improve livelihood, including better living for our elderly in an ageing population.
According to the World Health Organisation, elderly people are the fastest-growing age group worldwide. Hong Kong is, of course, no exception, particularly in the light of our advanced healthcare services and shrinking fertility rates. In fact, our city is facing a rapidly ageing population.
In 2014, Hong Kong’s elderly population, now defined as those aged 65 or above, stood at 1.07 million, representing 15% of our total population. By 2034, that is, in 20 years’ time, the elderly population will double to 2.28 million, accounting for 30% of the population. What is also worth mentioning is the blessing of longevity – according to our latest projections, elderly people aged 75 or above will increase from 7.6 % in 2014 to 15.4% in 2034, and further to 22.6% in 2064.
No doubt, an ageing population poses challenges to public services and society at large in a number of aspects, ranging from healthcare and elderly-care services to social welfare and community support, in both hardware and software.
The current-term Government is committed to tackling the acute demographic challenges brought by ageing population. We believe that, with early and proper planning for response strategies, the challenges are not insurmountable. And we may even ride on opportunities out of these challenges.
As early as in November 2012, just four months from the time the current-term Government assumed office, we revamped and expanded the membership of the Steering Committee on Population Policy with a view to ensuring that government deliberations on such an important area of work would have the benefit of professionals and experts in relevant fields.
The Committee then comprised not only relevant government officials, but also non-official members from a wide range of sectors such as academics, human resources management, business, social service, healthcare and education. We have devised a comprehensive strategy along five key directions, among which is active ageing, which refers to the process of optimising opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.
Elderly people, having contributed substantially to building today’s Hong Kong, are valuable assets of society. We attach great importance to the well-being of the elderly.
In the recently announced 2016 Policy Address, a series of policies and public works projects have been promulgated under the theme of building an age-friendly environment. Specifically, we will enhance barrier-free access facilities at public walkways to provide convenient and sheltered access for the elderly; we will improve cultural, recreational and municipal facilities to meet the actual needs of the elderly, by, for example, providing additional chairs and priority seats in indoor facilities as well as fitness equipment in outdoor leisure venues.
We are also considering providing larger toilet compartments for priority use by the elderly in new public toilets, and will assist the elderly to improve their home environment. By these, we wish to create an age-friendly community for our senior citizens.
Some usual critics of the Government ridicule us for pampering the elderly with trivialities. The reality is care for the elderly has always been a top priority of this term of the HKSAR Government and much has been done prior to the Chief Executive’s latest Policy Address.
The Government provides a spectrum of services for the elderly to cater for their needs. To encourage the elderly to stay active and promote a sense of worthiness among them, thereby enabling them to lead a fulfilling life, we have rolled out various schemes. On their daily and social lives, apart from various elderly centres and care services, we have the well-received $2 public transport fare concession scheme which greatly enhances the mobility and social connectivity of our elderly. The Secretary for Labour & Welfare, Matthew Cheung, and the Secretary for Transport & Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung have worked in concert to roll out this very popular scheme.
We also have the Elderly Academy Scheme, encouraging the elderly to engage in continuous learning. On social security, we offer the non-means-tested Old Age Allowance, the Old Age Living Allowance for the elderly in need of financial support as well as the means-tested Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA), respectively benefitting 220,000, 430,000 and 170,000 elderly people at the moment. On healthcare, we have in place programmes, such as the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme to take care of the general dental and medical needs of the elderly. We also provide allowance for carers of elderly persons from low-income families.
In fiscal terms, government recurrent expenditure on care for the elderly in all respects has grown from $42 billion in 2012-13 to $61 billion in 2015-16, a hefty 45% growth. There should be no doubt that the Government is fully committed to promoting an active lifestyle among the elderly – keep our senior citizens healthy and energetic.
In Hong Kong, with the establishment of the Innovation & Technology Bureau in November last year, the SAR Government will roll out various initiatives to help the elderly integrate in an increasingly digital world.
The Government has financed the development of the eElderly website providing information about elderly services. The Government also promotes the adoption of barrier-free website design and mobile apps by public and private sectors for the convenience of the elderly.
Funding has been provided for developing mobile apps to offer cognitive training for elderly people suffering from dementia and to help the elderly search for information on activities available. We also implemented the ICT Outreach Programmes for Elderly to allow elderly people to experience the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in enhancing their quality of life.
An ageing population gives momentum to the development of the silver hair market. According to a well-acclaimed research, the silver economy in Asia-Pacific is estimated to hit US$3 trillion by 2017, and Hong Kong tops the ranking of silver hair market potential among Asia-Pacific economies. The silver hair market offers plenty of economic opportunities, for example, in financial services, medical services and insurance, tourism, fitness and grooming, and elderly housing.
The elderly today and those in future generations will be more energetic, as we have seen from the fashion show; educated; technology-literate and independent. By bridging the digital divide and harnessing the power of information technology, we should be able to enhance the social connections and quality of life of our elderly citizens.
For example, the use of the Internet can help them better connect with family and friends and keep abreast of the outside world, while the application of technology will enable them to better manage their personal lives and keep track of their health.
Looking ahead, the development of innovation and technology industry in Hong Kong will play a key role in leveraging the opportunities presented by our ageing population.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam gave these remarks at the Golden Age Expo & Summit 2016 opening.