Sad story of HK elderly: Too old to work, too poor to retire

December 12, 2015 08:01
An elderly person rummages through a rubbish bin, searching for recyclable materials. Why do we allow our parents and grandparents to live such a hard and lonely life? Photo: Bloomberg

Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest and most advanced cities in the world. Its GDP per capita is one of the highest. It is a major international financial center.

Life here is fast, vibrant. Our public transportation system is second to none, and anyone can find anything here according to their choice and budget.

The unemployment rate is very low; finding a job is not very difficult. Unlike in many other Asian nations, low-income families here get government subsidies and welfare allowances.

Hong Kong is such a place that if you really work hard, you can be successful.

And yet, whenever we go out, we see many elderly people toiling in the busy streets.

We often see them pulling a pile of cardboard boxes or a sack full of aluminum cans, sweeping the streets, collecting garbage, selling fruits and vegetables, tending public toilets, cleaning the park, or doing other low-paying jobs that others abhor.

Many of them are well over 70, looking weak and exhausted.

Inevitably, we ask ourselves: Why?

Isn’t it time they take a rest from the hustle and bustle of life, partake of the fruits of their labor, stay home and enjoy the ultimate bliss of playing with their grandchildren?

Why are they still out in the streets? What is forcing them to keep on working in the twilight of their years?

Sadly, we have more questions than answers.

Hong Kong, mighty and proud, cannot seem to take care of its elderly people. Local media have even come up with a phrase to describe these people -- "too old to work, too poor to retire".

Hong Kong is definitely a very expensive place to live in. If you do not have a certain level of income, it is extremely hard to live a decent life.

This is the main reason why we see a lot of old people still struggling to pay for their basic needs.

One could also say that many of them are too embarrassed to queue up for government dole.

Others probably didn't have enough savings for retirement, and still others have been left to fend for themselves after their children migrated to Canada or elsewhere.

Whatever the reason might be, we shouldn't let our parents and grandparents live such a hard and lonely life.

We must take care of them and make them feel safe, secure and wanted. After all, it was their hardships, contributions and sacrifices that made Hong Kong what it is today. We should never forget or ignore them.

There is still time for Hong Kong society, and the government, to rectify this grievous injustice we inflict on our elderly.

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EJ Insight contributor