Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the CADENZA Symposium 2010: Age-friendly World Cities and Environment today (October 8):
Dr Li (Dr Donald Li, Steward, the Hong Kong Jockey Club), Professor Malpas (Prof John G Malpas, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the University of Hong Kong), Professor Holliday (Prof Ian Holliday, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, the University of Hong Kong), Professor Fok (Prof Fok Tai-fai, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong), Dr Leong (Dr Leong Che-hung, Chairman, Elderly Commission), Professor Woo (Prof Jean Woo, Project Director, CADENZA), ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to be invited to this symposium to talk about an important and far-reaching topic - "Age-friendly World Cities and Environment".
As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, many global economies are facing the challenge of an ageing population, and Hong Kong is no exception. This symposium provides a timely and useful platform for us to take stock of our overall performance. In effect, this is a health check and the findings will shed light on our strengths and deficiencies.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), "An Age-friendly City is an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing". Let us see how Hong Kong fares in this regard.
To start with, Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. Our overall crime rate is lower than that of Tokyo, Toronto and many other metropolitan cities. I am sure no one will dispute that.
We are also a highly mobile city. And accessibility counts, as you age. In Hong Kong, you can get almost everything within walking distance. Convenience stores open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And there is always one around the corner, as the commercial goes.
Our comprehensive public transport system is safe, efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly. The railways form the backbone of the transport system, with franchised buses, minibuses, taxis, trams and ferries performing a supplementary role. The coordination among different public transport modes has also been strengthened in recent years to better match demand and our senior citizens can enjoy discounted fares for most of them.
On housing, some 690,000 people aged 60 or above are living in public housing flats, representing 57% of the elderly population in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Housing Society also carries out projects under the Senior Citizen Residences Scheme to provide purpose-built flats with ancillary recreational and healthcare facilities for middle-income elderly people on a "lease-for-life" basis.
Health is no doubt one of the most important determining factors in the quality of life of our elders. Our heavily subsidised healthcare system provides affordable and comprehensive healthcare services through public hospitals and clinics for our seniors.
To achieve a better medical-social interface for the betterment of frail elders, new initiatives including the Integrated Discharge Support Trial Programme for Elderly Patients have been introduced to provide "one-stop" assistance for elderly dischargees from hospitals. These elderly patients are provided with pre-discharge planning and training, as well as post-discharge rehabilitation programmes and intensive home support services to facilitate their speedy recovery at home.
I understand that some of the prestigious speakers today will focus on healthcare in their presentation. I am sure they will offer us valuable food for thought.
To build a cohesive and harmonious community ranks high on the Hong Kong Government's agenda. Residents aged 65 or over are eligible for the Senior Citizen Card for access to concessions, discounts or priority services offered by government departments, public companies, private and commercial establishments. This is a very small token to show our respect and care for our senior citizens.
There are now more than 820,000 active card holders and the number of participating companies stands at about 8,400 with over 17,000 outlets.
The Government attaches great importance to the psychosocial and physical well-being of our elders. We spare no effort in encouraging and facilitating elders to lead an active and healthy life.
There are over 200 elderly centres throughout the territory which promote and facilitate active ageing. There are free recreation, cultural and sports programmes for the elderly and all sorts of concessions to encourage them to take part in various kinds of activities and programmes. There are playgrounds with fitness corners specially designed for our elders.
Under the cardinal principle of "ageing in place", we provide elders who age at home with subsidised centre-based and/or home-based community care services. For those who have long-term care needs and cannot be adequately taken care of at home, we provide them with subsidised residential care services.
As an on-going effort, we will continue to increase the provision of subsidised day care, home-based care and residential care services for the elderly to meet the ever growing demand.
We must not forget the many elderly singletons, especially the hidden and vulnerable ones, as we move forward. We have in place a series of special support services at district and neighbourhood levels provided through the 158 District Elderly Community Centres in the territory. These include regular contacts with elders in the district, the provision of counselling, emotional support, as well as referrals, community and health education services.
The formation of the Elderly Commission in 1997 to advise the Government on the formulation of a comprehensive policy in caring for the elders speaks volume for the Government's commitment in this regard. Our aim is to improve the quality of life of our elderly population and to provide them with a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of health and worthiness.
The Elder Academy Scheme to encourage lifelong learning among elders and the Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project with elders playing a central role in building up neighbourhood support networks are two worthwhile and popular projects launched by the Elderly Commission.
There are now some 90 elder academies in primary and secondary schools, with eight tertiary institutions offering elders the opportunity to fulfil their wish to study at universities. As for the Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project, there are currently 75 district projects, with around 200,000 elder beneficiaries.
While hardware is no doubt essential, what is fundamental, I should say, is the mindset. Some people tend to take a dim and rather passive view towards ageing. Let me say that I do not subscribe to this school of thought. The silver hair generation is full of wisdom and possesses a wealth of experience. They have much to offer the next generation and the community as a whole. Indeed, they are a treasure trove.
An age-friendly environment will result in more friendly aged citizens who will gainfully engage themselves in their golden years. It is an investment which will yield handsome dividends in the form of a healthier, happier and more cohesive society.
Ladies and gentlemen, right now, one out of eight Hong Kong residents is aged 65 or above and the ratio will climb to one in four in 30 years' time. What is more: according to a report by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare back in July, Hong Kong people have the second highest life expectancy in the world, with females at 86.1 years and males at 79.8, just after Japan and Qatar.
So this makes it all the more important for us to embrace the challenges squarely and positively and I look to your discussions today for ideas and recommendations to make Hong Kong a better place to age.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank many devoted NGOs for their dedication and support over the years. The novel and user-friendly Personal Emergency Link Service and the launching of the elderly portal (www.eElderly.hk), which is partly funded by the Government, are two shining examples which have contributed much towards a safer and richer life for our elders.
Before I close, I would like to pay tribute to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong for championing the cause of Cadenza. My heartfelt thanks also go to Dr Leong, Chairman of the Elderly Commission, for his personal commitment and enthusiasm in piloting the Commission's efforts in promoting active ageing.
On this note, I wish the symposium every success and all of you rewarding exchanges in the discussion sessions. Thank you.
Ends/Friday, October 8, 2010
Issued at HKT 11:48