Hong Kong elderly struggle with income, accommodation, care

Hong Kong elderly struggle with income, accommodation, care

Hong Kong – Delivering a message through a legislator from a Hong Kong prison, Wong Kok-man, who killed his sick wife to end her suffering from long-term illnesses almost two years ago, said elderly care services were too costly for him.

The 81-year-old said he would rather the city legalise euthanasia so that the elderly and sick are able to choose what to do with their lives instead of worrying about paying doctors and carers.

“[They] don’t have the money to hire carers anyway,” he wrote a message in Chinese to Al Jazeera.

Wong handed himself to police in June 2017, after ending the life of Lem Mae-kim – his partner of three decades – by pressing a bamboo stick against her neck while she was sleeping. 

Lam, 76, had been bedridden for years after a stroke left her paralysed. She had also lost her vision, her sense of taste and, according to her husband and sole carer, her interest in life.

Wong later pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter – a lesser charge than murder which he originally faced, with the approval of prosecutors.

In January, the trial judge handed him a two-year jail sentence and agreed to deduct the time already served in remand. Wong is expected to be released this month.

“I think [the case] reflects the insufficiency of our services and, in general, the neglect of elderly people, especially those in need of long-term care services in Hong Kong,” said Fernando Cheung, a legislator who frequently visits Wong in jail and raises awareness of the case.

Hong Kong Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung has called for more rights for elderly people [Yupina Ng/Al Jazeera]

Compounding Wong’s plight, his son committed suicide at the age of 24.

Lem could have gone to a care home but the average wait time is three years for a spot at a government-subsidised care centre, which costs 1,000 to 2,000 Hong Kong dollars ($127 to $254) a month.

There is a shortage of carers and land on which to build these institutions.

Privately-run elderly homes, however, charge up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Unlike most European countries, the elderly in Hong Kong have no pensions, although they can apply for other types of elderly allowances.

The elderly Comprehensive Social Security Scheme, or CSSA, for example, provides $445 a month.

As of November, 142,779 people aged 60 and older were CSSA recipients, according to government data.  

But Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam believes some of these people should and could work to help themselves financially.

“I am over 60 years old but I still work for over 10 hours every day,” she said in a press briefing where she announced a raising of the threshold for CSSA allowances, pushing its age requirement from 60 to 65, taking effect Friday.

Social workers and welfare specialists called the move “inhumane”.

Nelson Chow, professor emeritus at the University of Hong Kong’s Social Work and Social Administration Department, said the government has overlooked the fact that many CSSA recipients in their 60s have health problems and are not able to work.

“I believe that those who are able to work will continue to work instead of relying on CSSA,” said Chow, who has been studying elderly policy for 50 years. “So my question is, what is the purpose of raising the age requirement?

“The government has made a mistake this time.”

The decision led to a rare sense of unity at the Legislative Council, where legislators from across the political spectrum criticised Lam.

Social workers and NGOs also staged protests outside government offices.

Wong Sai-lok, 59, lives in a 40-square-foot subdivided unit with a shared bathroom and kitchen [Yupina Ng/Al Jazeera]

The protests forced Lam to adopt compensatory measure less than a week after announcing the policy change. 

The Employment Support Supplement will give preretirement age CSSA recipients $135 a month – the exact rate they would have lost before.

The supplement becomes effective Friday.

Suffering from knee problems, Wong Sai-lok, a 59-year-old CSSA recipient said that although he would like to work, he has been turned down for jobs “several times”, which he believed was because of his age and health condition.

He said he was disappointed that the government had decided to cut allowances for the elderly when it has a multibillion-dollar surplus.

A spokesman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said it has been providing the elderly with support at the community level so that they can “age in place”- a term referring to encouraging the elderly to live in their own homes as long as possible.

As he returned home to his 40-square-foot subdivided unit in an old tenement building, Wong, who will celebrate his 60th birthday in June, said: “This is my place.”

An elderly woman lifts trash in a Hong Kong market [Yupina Ng/Al Jazeera]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here