Who will look after those who look after others?

November 01, 2017 11:10
There is no established mechanism in Hong Kong to provide support for the “invisible disadvantaged”, those who look after disabled or chronically ill family members. Photo: HKEJ

A heartbreaking tragedy struck on Oct. 9: a man murdered his own elderly mother and then jumped to his death from his home. He was alleged to have done so out of the unbearable stress of taking care of his chronically ill mother.

The incident once again sparked public concern about the challenges facing those who have to care for their sick and elderly family members on a daily basis.

Government statistics show that as of 2015, about 203,700 disabled people and 175,600 chronic patients in Hong Kong were being taken care of at home.

Among primary carers of these people, 60 percent were spouses or children, while 20 percent were domestic helpers. In other words, most of the disabled and chronically ill people in the city are relying on family members to take care of them.

But while the disabled and chronically ill remains the focus of public and government attention, the problems and difficulties facing their spouses and children have been largely overlooked.

This begs the question: who is going to take care of those who take care of others? Unfortunately, there is hardly any.

If we refer to government statistics again, we can see that in 2013, as many as 11,600 people had to quit their full-time job in order to look after disabled or sick middle-aged and elderly family members.

These self-imposed caretakers are the “invisible disadvantaged”. Currently, there is no mechanism in place to provide support for them or follow up their cases.

Even though at present the Social Welfare Department is providing temporary care service for the elderly on the community level, the number of available slots for such service is extremely scarce. The average waiting time for government-subsidized community care services for the elderly currently stands at one year while for residential care services for the elderly it is three years.

As regards the Pilot Scheme on Living Allowance for Carers of Elderly Persons from Low-Income Families, all it offers is a mere monthly allowance of HK$2,000 for families who are making no more than HK$7,500 a month.

By comparison, the British government started providing non-means-tested allowances and a wide variety of support services for home carers way back in 1976.

Who is going to care for the carers? This is an issue that the government can no longer avoid if it really wants to take community care service seriously.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member