Walking past Sham Shui Po, it is easy to observe a heart-wrenching scenery of an old lady collecting trash from the recycling bin. Hong Kong, as a metropolitan city entitled with “The Pearl of Orient”, why are there so many street sleepers living under the footbridge? With the problem of aging population, elderly poverty has become more ubiquitous while some has urged for comprehensive and universal retirement scheme. In light of this, the government authority commenced to optimize the current elderly subsidy scheme in order to prevent misuse. Starting from next February, the retired one aged 60 or above, instead of the existing elderly transport subsidy which covers those who are 65 or above only, can also obtain the $2 transport discount. This week, the government begins to accept the application of the old people who was born in 1960.
Yet, its effectiveness in alleviating the elderly poverty is still under huge controversy. Mr. Chan, a 64-year-old vagrant residing in a park in Sham Shui Po, expressed his discontent with the policy. He mentioned that accommodation is his biggest trouble due to the soaring property price and rent. He could only receive CSSA but not the old age allowance because of the age limit. The loopholes fall to the threshold setting at 65 years old for all the welfares given to the elderly, meaning that those who is in the gap of 60 to 64 years old suffer.
“I appreciate the extension of amended scheme to all aged between 60 and 64. But, to be honest, it doesn’t help me at all because I don’t travel a lot to different districts.” Transportation fee is definitely one of the major daily expenses, but whether it can practically improve the life of the elderly who is in the lowest strata is still in question.
Referring to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report for 2019, 3 out of every 10 elderly were considered as destitute with more than 150,000 elderly still employed. Like the long queuing time for the Public Housing, the waiting time for lodging in elderly home is also 2 years. It reflects that a lot of empty nesters are under poverty, having no shelters to stay other than the subdivided flats.
“I am living alone and my children don’t take care of me at all. To most of the grassroots like me, transportation cost is a minor expenditure of a household while the significant proportion of earnings goes to the housing expenses. We would like to have a proper and safe shelter to reside in. That’s far more substantial and helpful than offering me $2 transport subsidy,” Ms. Cheung, a 66-year-old empty nester whose husband died few years ago. She collected CSSA and 1475 dollars per month from the old age allowance, which is insufficient for her to sustain the living. She indicated that the amount of subsidy was impossible to catch up the inflation rate and skyrocketing housing prices. She kept working as a security guard, but a lot of her friends failed to find a job especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the new scheme, eligible elderly can submit their application for JoyYou Card through Octopus mobile application or postal service. Except lowering the age threshold, red minibuses and kaitos will also be included.
Hong Kong Population Projections 2020-2069 revealed the percentage of population aged 65 or above would reach 23% in 2024 and 33% in 2039. Given the abruptly soaring ratio, the latest arrangement is a big step in easing elderly poverty; but it remains to be an arduous obstacle for the government to eliminate the problem.