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Speech by SLW at Microsoft CityNext Forum Series: A Better Third Age through Technology (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at Microsoft CityNext Forum Series: A Better Third Age through Technology organised by Microsoft and co-organised by the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong this afternoon (April 8):

Mr Horace Chow (General Manager of Microsoft Hong Kong Limited), Professor Gregg Li (Vice-Chairman of the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong), Dr Leong Che-hung (Chairman of the Council of the University of Hong Kong), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to kick off this afternoon's timely and meaningful discussion on the enormous possibilities that technology can bring to improving the life of our senior citizens. It is encouraging to see many heavyweights from the fields of technology, social enterprise and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) gathering here to chart our way forward for a more fulfilling third age.

     Let me first thank Microsoft for organising this forum in collaboration with the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong and other supporting organisations. I understand that this forum seeks to take a visionary, strategic and holistic look at how to explore technological frontiers to tackle elderly population issues.

     By bridging the digital divide and harnessing the power of information technology, we should be able to improve social circle connections with day-to-day technical knowledge to enhance the quality life of the elderly. The use of the Internet, smartphones and other communication devices, for example, can help them better connect with family, friends and the younger generations, and keep abreast with the outside world. We will also enable our senior citizens to keep fit and keep track of their health through comprehensive monitoring by means of intelligent innovation. These underpin the concept of global age-friendly communities.

     According to the World Health Organization, elderly people are the fastest-growing age group worldwide. By 2050, 2 billion people - or nearly a quarter of the world's population - will be aged 60 or above. As a result of longer life expectancy and shrinking fertility rates, Hong Kong is also rapidly greying. In 2012, our life expectancy rose to 81 years for men and 86 years for women, almost the highest in the world. At present, Hong Kong's elderly population stands at slightly above 1 million, meaning that one out of seven is aged 65 or above. The ratio will rise to a staggering one in three by 2041.

     To best meet the challenges of an ageing population and enhance the well-being of our elderly people, the current-term Government is committed to providing a full range of elderly care services. Recurrent expenditure on elderly care services in 2014-15 is estimated at $6.2 billion, representing 10.9 per cent of the total recurrent social welfare expenditure, and up by 15.1 per cent over last years' figure (of $5.4 billion). If one adds spending on social security payments and health care to elderly care services, the Government's recurrent expenditure for the elderly as a whole amounts to a substantial $56.3 billion or 18.3 per cent of the total recurrent spending.

     Today's elderly people are better educated, healthier and more energetic. As such, their self-care capability is rather high. In fact, less than 7 per cent of our elderly require assistance at different levels in performing activities of daily living. These open up new economic and social opportunities for our senior citizens as well as for the community as a whole. This is where the concepts of the third age, active ageing and silver hair market come into play.

     To promote active ageing, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Elderly Commission launched the Elder Academy Scheme in 2007. This enables our senior citizens to pursue continued learning in a school setting. Having regard to the aspiration of some elderly persons to study in a university, the scope of the Scheme was expanded to cover tertiary institutions in 2008. At present, a total of 108 Elder Academies have been set up in primary and secondary schools and in tertiary institutions. Together they provide over 10 000 learning places every year. The Government recently injected $50 million into the Elder Academy Development Foundation to facilitate the continual development of the scheme.

     To encourage elderly people to be truly socially mobile, better integrate into the community and widen their social network, the Government launched the Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme last year. The scheme enables eligible seniors and persons with disability to travel on most public transport at a concessionary flat fare of $2 per trip. The scheme has proved overwhelmingly popular. The number of average daily trips under the scheme amounts to about 680 000. Of these, a substantial 88 per cent, or some 600 000 trips per day, are made by elderly people. The scheme will cost the Government some $600 million in this financial year in terms of reimbursement to the public transport operators for their fare revenue forgone. We are exploring with the green minibus trade and Octopus Cards Limited on the mechanics of extending the Scheme to over 3 000 green fixed-route minibuses by phases starting early next year.

     For many elderly people, retirement can mean more active involvement in social and community life as well as more flexibility to take up voluntary and part-time duties. With proper technological applications to meet their needs and harness their expertise, our senior citizens can better enjoy a productive and fulfilling third age. They can also pass on their wisdom, life-long experience and values to the younger generation.

     I firmly believe that through technology and with the concerted efforts of the Government and the wider community, we can make Hong Kong a caring, cohesive, barrier-free and age-friendly community for our senior citizens to live in and enjoy their golden years to the full.

     I wish you all a successful and stimulating forum this afternoon. Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:55


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