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LCQ12: Definition of old age
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     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 2):

Question:

     Quite a number of social workers, medical practitioners, elderly groups and specialist medical groups have complained to me that the current elderly policies of the Government are very confusing.  The complaints have alleged that the normal retirement age for civil servants is 60; the age requirement for applying for the various public rental housing schemes of the Hong Kong Housing Authority that grant priority to elderly applicants (elderly housing schemes) is 60 or above; the age requirement for applying for the Senior Citizen Card and the Old Age Allowance issued or granted by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) is 65 or above; the age requirement for using the elderly health care vouchers is 70 or above; the minimum age requirement for some of the geriatric specialty services of the Hospital Authority (HA) is 70.  The complainants have pointed out that different government departments adopt a different definition of old age.  It seems that there is policy psychosis, and the public are perplexed by the inconsistencies.  Some elderly people have pointed out that certain government departments may be deliberately exploiting the welfare of the elderly people, leading to the current situation where different government departments adopt different definitions of old age.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the definition of old age as adopted by the Government, whether it is 60, 65 or 70, and which government department(s) has/have adopted the correct definition of old age;

(b) whether the Government will standardise the definition of old age adopted by different government departments so that they can coordinate with one another in the implementation of the various elderly policies, thereby ensuring that the elderly can spend their twilight years happily; if it will, when it will do so; if not, of the reasons for that;

(c) whether the Government will immediately lower the minimum age requirement for applying for SWD's Senior Citizen Card to 60, so that it can tie in with the retirement age for civil servants and the age requirement for application for elderly housing schemes; if it will, when it will do so; if not, of the reasons for that;

(d) whether the Government will immediately lower the minimum age requirement for the beneficiaries of the elderly health care vouchers to 60, and request HA to lower the minimum age requirement for some of its geriatric specialty services to 60, so as to tie in with the retirement age for civil servants and the age requirement for application for elderly housing schemes; if it will, when it will do so; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(e) whether it has assessed if the resources allocated by the Government to elderly services are insufficient, which has resulted in different government departments having different understanding of the definition of old age; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, when additional resources will be allocated; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

(a), (b) and (e) The Government's overall objective is to provide appropriate assistance and services for meeting the needs of our citizens, and ensure the proper use of public resources.  As the aim and target recipients of different types of assistance and services vary, the difference in age requirement is understandable.

In fact, there is no uniform definition of "elders" internationally.  For instance, the information provided by the World Health Organisation shows that in the majority of industrialised countries, the age of 65 is the demarcation between elders and non-elders; in demographic statistics, the "elderly dependency ratio" is also defined as the number of persons aged 65 or above per 1 000 persons aged between 15 and 64; yet the United Nations considers that, taking into account the generally shorter average life expectancy in developing countries, persons aged 60 or above may be taken as the elderly population in general.

(c) The Senior Citizen Card (the Card) provides a generally recognised proof of age for elders aged 65 or above to facilitate their access to concessions or priority services offered by Government departments, public companies, and private and commercial establishments.  The present eligibility age was set by the Social Welfare Department having regard to the intentions and views of participating organisations.  Although lowering the minimum age requirement for the Card will increase the number of eligible applicants, this may affect the support of organisations which are participating or may participate in the Senior Citizen Card Scheme (the Scheme).  This may not be in the interest of card holders.  Taking into account the operation of the Scheme and the relevant factors above, we have no plan to change the eligibility criteria for the Card for the time being.

(d) The Government launched the three-year Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme in January 2009, under which elders aged 70 or above are each offered health care vouchers of $250 annually to subsidise their use of private primary health care services.  Having completed the interim review of the Pilot Scheme, we propose to extend the Pilot Scheme for another three years, and double the value of the health care vouchers to $500 per person per year without changing other rules of the Pilot Scheme (including the eligibility age).  The Financial Secretary has, in the 2011íV12 Budget just announced, committed to allocating $1 billion to implement these proposals.

     The Hospital Authority (HA) is providing services to the elderly through geriatric specialist service, geriatric day hospitals and other service programmes.  Depending on service demand and capacity, the service targets in general are elders aged 65 or above.  We must stress that all HA services are provided according to the need of individual patients, and patients in different age groups will receive appropriate services.  The categorisation of some services by age group is mainly for administrative purpose and to facilitate statistical analysis.

Ends/Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:45

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