It was an early autumn morning in Sai Wan Ho. Kwong Yee, 74, got off his bed and went to the toilet for his daily morning ritual. He then proceeds to the living room to read the morning newspaper while his Filipina helper for seven years, Ruby Calo, prepares his breakfast. In a few hours, he will visit his friends in the nearby community to play mah jong. By next month, the retired policeman and his family will travel to Europe for their regular overseas vacation.
On the other side of the sea, in the busy streets of Sham Shui Po is another man of Kwong Yee’s age. But unlike Kwong Yee, his morning is spent scavenging trash bins for leftover food. His only property is a hand-me-down trolley cart full of old umbrellas and rubbish plastic bags. With nowhere to go, the homeless wanderer has made the streets his home.
These are the two faces of Silver Tsunami that has hit Hong Kong in the early 2000 and will last until 2040. And as the post-war baby-boomers have reached their retirement age, more diverse scenarios are expected to come. Hospitals will be swarmed with elderly people suffering from degenerative diseases which is aggravated by the high cost of geriatric care. Silver tsunami is expected to peak in 2018.
According to the Hong Kong government website legco.gov.hk, there are more people now aged 65 and above than those who are 0-14 since 2011 and is expected to grow to 32% in 2041 from the current 17% of the total population. Life expectancy is also expected to increase from the current 81.4 for males and 87.6 for females to 84.4 and 90.8 respectively. And as a result of the ageing population, elderly dependency ratio is also predicted to increase. Currently, the ratio is pegged at 231 elderlies for every 1000 people of 15-64 group age.
“Under a do-nothing scenario, population ageing could entail propound implications to our socio-economic development and public finance,” says hkeconomy.gov.hk in its article entitled Population Ageing in Hong Kong: Challenges and Opportunities.
feedinghk.com reported that 1 in every 5 people in Hong Kong live in poverty, and 1 in every 3 senior citizens struggle to meet their basic nutritional needs. With almost 1.5 million people living below HK$ 3,275 per month, it is unlikely to save a part of their income for their future, considering the high cost of living in the territory.
While old people in Hong Kong enjoy benefits such as low transportation fare, subsidized clinic allowance, and free medical services, Peter P. Yuen of Hong Kong Polytechnic University thinks that the current system is quite alarming as government subsidies and expenditures rely heavily in tax money.
In his article published in Hong Kong Public Administration Association journal, Yuen stressed that Hong Kong’s total expenditure for health and long-term care and services is expected to grow from 5.3% to 9.2% in 2030. It is a big problem as there will be a drastic decrease in workforce participation due to baby-boomers’ retirement from the current 58.8% down to 49.5% by 2041. The tax-dependent financing model is likely non-sustainable with the declining labor force and the growing number of elder persons, he concluded.
As for the government, it established the Steering Committee on Population Policy (SCPP) and conducted series of public engagement exercises aimed to explain the challenges to the general public and harvest opinions and views to formulate strategies and specific measures to counter the problems of the silver tsunami. Also, the government has allotted HK$ 200B budget to refurnish the hospital system to accommodate the projected influx of patients in the coming years.
And while the solutions have not trickled down to the grassroot levels, Kwong Yee, in the meantime, reaps the fruit of his hard labor before through pension from the government while the nameless man on Sham Shui Po will continue to dig trash bins every day to survive.
Sources of data (all retrieved 26 September 2016):