Motion on “Enhancing Support for Carers” (2021.06.03)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, the Government has all along provided relatively little direct and effective support for the carers of persons with disabilities, persons with intellectual disabilities and some frail elderly persons. From time to time, we see news reports that prolonged physical and mental exhaustion has pushed carers to breaking point, resulting in tragedies. I am very grateful to Mr LEUNG Che-cheung for proposing this motion today. I hope that the Government can listen carefully to Members’ views and provide support for carers.

Today, I wish to talk specifically about the issue of ageing in place, which concerns carers and care recipients. Enabling the elderly to age in place is the Government’s long-term strategy. To successfully implement this policy, it should provide comprehensive and adequate support for those caring for elderly persons, including their husbands, wives and children. If the support services can meet their needs, both elderly persons and carers will benefit greatly.

In reality, except for those who are seriously lacking in self-care abilities, most elderly persons wish to age at home and continue to live with their families. This will definitely give them a better quality of life because many elderly persons may not adapt to the life in residential care homes (“RCHs”) and the service quality of such homes varies considerably. However, frail elderly persons who age at home need to be looked after by carers, who are the subject of our discussion today. If the quota of support services is insufficient, both elderly persons and carers will need to wait for a very long time, which will place carers under tremendous pressure.

It is well known that the population is ageing in Hong Kong. The proportion of elderly persons in the total population is expected to rise from the current 18% to 33% by 2039, so elderly care will become a major issue in society. In fact, the Chief Executive highlighted in the 2017 Policy Address that the Government’s policy should accord priority to the provision of home care and community care supplemented by residential care. Yet, the development of ageing-in-place services is so slow that it has been outpaced by the development of residential care.

Currently, the monthly cost of a government-run residential care place for the elderly ranges from $16,000 to $26,000, averaging around $18,000. As for ageing-in-place services, that is, those provided by the Social Welfare Department mentioned before, the monthly cost ranges from around $3,000-odd to $11,000, averaging around $5,000-odd. In other words, the cost of one residential care place is sufficient to cover the expenses of three ageing-in-place services. In view of the rapid population ageing in the future, ageing in place is probably more suitable for Hong Kong’s society having regard to resources. Therefore, the Government should not only promote the policy of ageing in place, but should also enhance various services so as to develop ageing in place in a sustainable manner.

As a matter of fact, most elderly persons in middle-class families are cared for by foreign domestic helpers or family members rather than staying in RCHs, unless their health condition is so bad that they need prolonged nursing care. Given that the cost of a place in subvented RCHs is currently as high as $18,000, can the Government consider subsidizing elderly persons waiting for residential care places to hire foreign domestic helpers or providing subsidies for family carers? Since financial burden is certainly the biggest consideration, it is necessary to conduct an in-depth study. However, I believe providing subsidies for carers will definitely alleviate the pressure in constructing RCHs for the elderly. This is about making good use of resources. If the Government can do a good job on this, the elderly will definitely have a better retirement life.

Thank you, President.

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