By Chrystie Lam
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is facing a number of livelihood and social issues such as an aging population and the proliferation of single-parent families, new immigrant families and disabled elderly, which pose challenges to the city’s sustainable development and social stability.
In tackling these problems, the government ought to pay special attention to elderly care, which is an indispensable component of the domestic service industry. Domestic service goes beyond a small portion of society; it extends to performing a major livelihood function which in turn has a profound impact on the well-being of the general public.
With an aging population, the employment of foreign domestic helpers has been unable to meet the increasing demand of local families with elderly members for professional household and care services. The future development and planning of the elderly service industry is of utmost importance to the city.
‘Aging in place’
As laid out in the 2022 policy address, the government has set a policy objective of “promoting aging in place (elderly people living in their own home) as the core, with institutional care as back-up”.
But there has long been an imbalance in the development of the “aging in place” care service and elderly home service in Hong Kong. More often than not, public attention and policy focuses are on elderly homes, despite the severe shortage of institutional places and the indisputable fact that elderly people prefer living in their own home as long as the objective circumstances allow.
Admittedly, the government has proactively promoted and supported the development of the elderly home service industry in recent years, such as by increasing the financial investment and policy support to elderly homes for the enhancement of facilities and service quality. But there are still obvious shortcomings in the elderly home industry, such as the lack of stability in the overall service quality, insufficient facilities, and a shortage of staff, which place elderly welfare in jeopardy. It therefore calls for society to refocus on the “aging in place” industry as it is a fundamental part of elderly care.
Reforming foreign domestic helper regime
Similar to the elderly home service industry, the “aging in place” service industry has all along faced a shortage of manpower and a mismatch in demand and supply. In view of the situation, the government should consider further opening up the market for imported workers to cope with the increasing demand. At the same juncture, the government should categorize foreign domestic helper visas into two types: ordinary foreign domestic helper visas and “aging in place” carer visas, and promote the application of the latter.
To this end, the government should try to attract foreign workers from diverse national backgrounds to work as carers of elderly people who would be “aging in place”. Introducing various policy measures such as relaxing visa restrictions, providing favorable working conditions and better salary packages, would attract more foreign workers to come to Hong Kong and work in the “aging in place” care sector to relieve the pressure of elderly homes.
To improve the quality of elderly care services, the government should proactively promote the development of the elderly service industry by providing training, funding and tax incentives among other measures.
In terms of foreign labor training and human resource management, the government can promote the establishment of professional training institutions and courses to improve the skills and service quality of practitioners, and closely monitor the management of foreign workers to ensure that their rights and interests are well protected. Ultimately, it is the elderly people who would benefit from a properly-functioning foreign carer industry.
While the domestic service industry in Hong Kong is well developed, its further development is constrained by various factors, such as the lack of professional training and certification mechanisms, resulting in unstable service quality. In addition, the domestic service industry is also facing challenges such as a manpower shortage and escalating costs.
In order to promote the balanced development of the relevant sectors, the government and all sectors of society should cooperate to implement target-based measures. For example, the authorities should enhance investment and support for the “aging in place” service industry and domestic service industry; establish a comprehensive and fair certification and training mechanism; attract more talents to join the sectors; strengthen the policy support and management of the industry, to name but a few measures. Only with such target-oriented measures could we achieve a balanced development of the domestic service industry and better meet the needs of the elderly and their families.
The domestic service industry should also actively respond to the government’s call to provide professional and empathetic caring services. For example, the industry should promote domestic caring services to elderly people who opt for “aging in place”, and provide training to improve the service skills and quality of workers. Elderly people are entitled to receive needs-based and personalized services in line with their expectations. Having contributed to Hong Kong society for decades, our elderly citizens should be able to enjoy better care and love during the latter years of their life.
Letting elderly “enjoy their golden years” is more than a slogan. It’s a common goal of our society that relies on the joint efforts of all sectors to promote the development of the elderly service industry and create a more comfortable environment for the elderly.
Chrystie Lam Haa-iu is director of labor and welfare affairs, Chinese Dream Think Tank, and founder of the Coalition of Global Home Service Sustainable Development.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.