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Speech by SLW at CADENZA Symposium 2008: Successful Ageing (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, today (October 11) at CADENZA Symposium 2008: Successful Ageing:

Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges, Professor Malpas, Dr Leong, Professor Holliday, Professor Woo, ladies and gentlemen,

     "Successful Ageing" is a topic very dear to my heart.  It is my privilege to be invited to participate in today's symposium and share with you my belief and thoughts on this important topic.

Ageing population and our vision

     Like many advanced economies, Hong Kong is facing the challenge of an ageing population.  At present, one out of every eight citizens in Hong Kong is aged 65 or above.  The latest population projection tells us that the ratio will increase to one out of four by 2033, that's just 25 years from now.  We can reasonably expect that there will be a gradual change in the welfare and health service demand landscape in the years to come.  How to rise to the challenge of an ageing population has become a pressing item on the agenda of many governments around the world.

     Ageing is a global phenomenon and we have learned a lot from other countries' experience.  Nonetheless, all of us here would agree that there is no single solution that can apply to all places.  For a policy initiative to succeed, every government has to take into account the local dynamics and actual needs of the people.  

     Hong Kong is a small place and a predominantly Chinese society.  Most of our elders prefer living in the community instead of residential care homes because living in a familiar neighbourhood means better access to the support of family, friends and neighbours.  When elders have got used to the surroundings, they can easily find a grocer or hairdresser to chat with around the street corner.  Don't you prefer this kind of living after you retire?

     With this in mind, our elderly policies and service parameters are formulated along the underlying philosophy of "encouraging ageing in the community" and "promoting active ageing".  To facilitate "ageing in the community", we provide an array of home-based and centre-based services for elders who live in the community.  Under the philosophy of "active ageing", we encourage elders to lead a proactive life through regular participation in community affairs and lifelong learning, and to project a positive image of ageing and the elderly to society at large.  Let me elaborate on what the Government has done to translate these philosophies into practice.

An overview of Hong Kong's elderly services

     Over the years, the Government has devoted considerable resources to the provision of subsidised elderly services.  With the help of non-government organisations, we have developed a whole range of care and support services at the community level, for both centre-based and home-based services.

     For "centre-based" services, we are providing funding to a total of 156 elderly centres throughout the territory, offering education, counselling, recreation, carer support and meal services to elders and their carers in a holistic manner. More than 180,000 elders have joined these centres as members. There are also 54 Day Care Centres serving about 3,000 frail elders who cannot be adequately be taken care of by their family members during the daytime.

     For "home-based" services, we operate 80 home-based service teams providing elders with meal delivery, escort, home-making and personal care services directly at the residences of elders.  More than 20,000 elders are using the services.  In addition, we run 41 outreach teams that keep in touch with 60,000 vulnerable elders, including singleton and "hidden" elders, and provide them with timely assistance.

New initiatives

     While we have put in place a comprehensive range of services to cater for elders of different backgrounds, we are also mindful of the evolving service needs of elders and their carers.  To this end, we have launched a number of new initiatives over the last year to better meet the evolving demands and enhance the quality of life of the elderly.

     First of all, appreciating the heavy workload of the elderly centres, we have provided them with additional recurrent funding of $60 million to enhance their outreach services for singleton and "hidden" elders, and to strengthen their counselling, referral and support services for elders in need.  The additional funding has helped the centres to reach out to an additional 6,000 elders over a span of six months.

     Secondly, we have launched the Home Environment Improvement Scheme at a cost of $200 million to enhance the living environment of elders who live in dilapidated homes and who do not have family support.  We expect that a total of 40,000 elderly households will benefit from the scheme over the next five years.

     Thirdly, to provide holistic elderly care training programmes and carer stand-in services, we have launched the District-based Trial Scheme on Carer Training in three districts.  As of September, 2008, about 700 individuals have been trained.

     Fourthly, to better prepare elderly patients after being discharged from hospitals and to reduce their risks of hospital re-admission, we have put in place a pilot scheme to provide them with hospital discharge planning, transitional rehabilitation, home-based support service and carer training.  We estimate that about 9,000 high-risk elders and 3,000 carers will be served annually in the coming four years.

     Finally, we have launched three community projects to facilitate elders to play an active role and engage themselves meaningfully.  These projects are the "Elder Learning Scheme" that provides a total of 11,000 places in 78 Elder Academies and seven tertiary institutions, the "Pilot Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project" that aims at enhancing friendship and mutual-assistance in neighbourhoods, and the "Pilot Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project - Caring for Elders" that recruits elder volunteers to help prevent elderly abuse cases.

Sustainability of the system

     Facing an ageing population, we are conscious that any support system for elders and carers in Hong Kong has to be financially viable and sustainable in the long run.  In addition to the continued increase in the supply of Government-funded services, we also have to count on the concerted efforts of individuals, their families and society at large in satisfying the multifarious needs of elders, and to encourage a healthy mix of public, self-financing and private care services for the elderly that can offer consumers a wide spectrum of quality choices.  The Elderly Commission has embarked on a study earlier this year on the long-term planning of elderly services to examine how we can rise to the challenges of an ageing population effectively.  We expect the study to be completed in early 2009.

Concluding remarks

     By reflecting on local and overseas experience, this year's symposium will prove a golden opportunity for experts and service providers in the fields of elderly care and gerontology to exchange ideas and stimulate thoughts.  It will also contribute to the furthering of studies on related topics, which will in turn help promote the welfare and well-being of elders in Hong Kong as well as other countries and regions.  I tip my hat to the Jockey Club, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong for championing the cause of Cadenza in the past years.

     May I wish the symposium every success, and all of you fruitful exchanges in the upcoming discussion sessions.  Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, October 11, 2008
Issued at HKT 09:45


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