Promoting public health policy to let the elderly enjoy a quality life
MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
Deputy President, as defined by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, an “ageing society” is one with 7% of a country’s/place’s population aged 65 or above; an “aged society” is one with more than 14% of the population aged 65 or above; and a “super-aged society” is a society with over 20% of the population aged 65 or above. As at the end of last year, there were 1.418 million people aged 65 or above in Hong Kong, accounting for about 19.1% of Hong Kong’s overall population. Given its continuously increasing average life expectancy, decreasing birth rate and declining younger population, Hong Kong is expected to enter the stage of a super-aged society in near term.
I am grateful to Mr CHAN Kin-por for proposing this motion which is meant to arouse society’s concern about how the Government should adopt a new mentality in formulating a public health policy that enables the elderly to enjoy a quality life in their twilight years while easing the social and financial pressure associated with an ageing population. I support the motion.
The Government has recently announced the lowering of the age eligibility of the “$2 transport fare concession scheme” (Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Eligible Persons with Disabilities) to 60, which is a rather down-to-earth initiative. The transport costs in Hong Kong are not at all cheap and retirees may choose to stay at home more often for this reason. With such new initiative in place, more elderly people will be encouraged to step into the local community and be integrated into society.
After two decades’ research efforts, a professor of psychology in the United States has concluded some factors affecting human life expectancy and written a book entitled The Longevity Project. Unexpectedly, of the six major factors determining human life expectancy as listed in the book, what comes first is interpersonal relationship. I believe that travelling around together with friends is a very effective way to maintain interpersonal relationships. Therefore, it is an excellent transport policy for the Government to provide the elderly people with more transport fare concessions to facilitate their travelling around the territory.
There is no denying that an ageing population will directly result in an increase in public healthcare expenditure. Public spending on catering for the elderly (including recurrent expenditure on elderly services, healthcare and financial support for the elderly) has amounted to HK$91.9 billion in 2019-2020,accounting for 20.8% of total government expenditure. As compared with that in 2012-2013, the amount has actually increased by an average of 11.4% year-on-year. As to the amount spent on healthcare for the elderly last year, it was as high as $39.9 billion.
The never-ending increase in healthcare expenditure will mean a heavy burden on society, which rests squarely on the shoulders of those young and able taxpayers. Thus, the Government should get to the root of the problem, including by way of attempting to adopt a more forward-looking approach of investing resources in encouraging regular exercise by the elderly for the purpose of maintaining their physical and mental health, thereby cutting the relevant healthcare expenses that may be incurred otherwise. For example, the Government may encourage the elderly to take more walks. Walking is a simple exercise suitable for people of all ages and can take place anytime, anywhere. Walking helps improve one’s blood circulation, relax the blood vessels as well as reduce the blood pressure, and can thus serve to lower the risk of heart disease.
In order to increase the elderly’s motivation to exercise, the Government may consider collaborating with providers of electronic payment services to, say, launch a “walk for health every day” reward scheme, under which an elderly person will be given $20 as a reward for having walked 8 000 steps a day. The sum needs not to be a big one, but at least, it signifies some form of encouragement from the Government given openly to recognize the perseverance of those elderly people exercising regularly. Besides, the Government can provide funding for organizing a dedicated structured exercise programme for the elderly which allows the elderly people to gather together and do exercise in a relaxed manner at such venues as ball courts and sports centres managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in every district.
In addition to exercising, it is also a desirable option for the elderly to go back to school to pursue education so as to build up their social circle. The local education scheme for the elderly was launched in the 1980s and many of our senior citizens still have a dream of studying in the university. In recent years, the Elder Academy Scheme has been extended to tertiary institutions, and the Government may consider expanding the Scheme further. Well, one is supposed to keep working and learning as he grows older and older, and pursuing lifelong learning by the elderly may set a good example of this. In turn, it will be of great benefit to the mental health of the elderly if they make good use of their time to acquire new knowledge and skills in order to keep abreast of the times.
Finally, I would like to talk about the importance of developing good dietary habits by elderly people to minimize the risk of falling sick. With a balanced diet, they will naturally be in better health condition and able to happily enjoy their post-retirement life. Developed countries/places around the world are also facing the problem of population ageing. The television stations in such countries as Japan and Korea produce a lot of programmes on healthy eating for seniors. And so, the SAR Government should consider taking the lead in promoting the importance of a healthy diet for the elderly through the production of more programmes of the same kind by public radio and television stations.
Deputy President, the elderly will soon become a major component of the local population. It is incumbent upon the Government to do more for these people who have contributed to society for most of their lives, so as to enable them to enjoy a peaceful life.
I so submit, Deputy President. Thank you.