Review and Reform Housing Policy for the Elderly

Speech of the Hon K P Chan, JP at the Legislative Council on 30 June 2010 Motion Debate On Housing Policy for the Elderly

MR PRESIDENT: We are grateful to the Hon Lau Kong-wah for his Motion on “Housing Policy for the Elderly” today and also to other fellow Members for their Amendments.

Actually, the spirit of this Motion is well beyond drawing our attention to basic housing need of the elderly and calling for the Government to put in place policies that would allow senior citizens to live in dignity. It has a further meaning of paying respects to the senior. In reviewing housing policy for the elderly, we should not forget that we are children as well. We should bring in the element of respect and should encourage children to care for their parents and preferably to live with them under the same roof through various government policies. These measures would help promote social harmony and ethics.

An old Chinese proverb says: “Respectfulness is the primary conduct of all”. Nothing is more important than the universal norm of having respects to parents. After all, this is an inherent duty of children.

Parenthood is demanding in efforts and patience. It would be disheartening and insufferable if children are not around at one’s final hours of life.

In fact, there are laws on protection of rights of the elderly that impose a duty on children to support their parents in many countries like Singapore and even Taiwan. With an aging population, the elderly is increasing in proportion in Hong Kong, bringing about more social problems. The Government is facing various issues from housing to health and social integration.

I do not believe that legislating for children to support parents is desirable. The Government should encourage children to fulfill their duties through policy incentives like substantially increasing personal tax allowance for dependent parents living under the same roof. Other measures like more adaptive designs in public housing should be considered. As two to three or even four generations are living together in some families, the Government should consider more adaptive flat designs and flexible administrative measures to accommodate them. For instance, the design of public housing may provide larger units or flexible internal layout to encourage these families of several generations to live together. Of course, occupants of these “super units” should surrender them to the authorities for re-allotment to other eligible families when there are changes in original household compositions.

On the other hand, young couples and even the elderly may wish to live independently for privacy but still within reachable proximity. The Government should consider their wishes with new thinking and innovatively allot eligible couples and their parents to occupy units within the same estate or even on the same floor. I urge the Government to make the greatest effort to assist these families in meeting their desires of living together or in the same neighbourhood.
In Singapore, family coherence is of utmost importance to the Government. Its public housing policy is built on the core spirit of family traditions. Specifically, the Singapore Government subscribes to the policy of “a bowl of soup” afar as proposed by Japanese scholars. Under this policy concept, children and parents should live within a distance such that soups remain hot on delivery to parents.

Therefore, Singapore has implemented various policy incentives to facilitate caring of parents. For example, families of two or three generations are given priority in the allotment of public housing.

Families of two generations living within proximity (of 2 km) are given financial assistance for the purchase of public housing.

According to results of the public housing survey of 2008 conducted by Singapore Housing Development Board, almost four out of every 10 young couples have chosen to live with parents or within their proximity. The survey interviewed about 8,000 citizens and permanent residence.

The same survey also reveals that married couples who have opted to live with parents or within their proximity increase from 29.3 percent in 1998 to 35.5 percent in 2008. These findings indicate that more young families want to live away from their parents but not too far away in order to maintain intimate family bond.

Hong Kong is on the contrary. Fellow Members have pointed out our flaws from housing policy to housing design in this Council. Not only living together with parents is not encouraged, the Government is also indirectly encouraging children to move out early and live away from their aging parents. When these youngsters leave their parents and siblings and move to New Towns still under development, they are facing brand new living environment. Owing to the lack of support of parents, family and friends, work and social stress have led to many cases of family problems and tragedies.

On the other hand, their parents might have to move to sanctuaries because home care is lacking. Such undesirable arrangements are affecting physical and psychology health of the elderly and giving rise to various social problems. The community would pay even bigger prices.

When we review housing policy for the elderly, what we should consider is the more significant meaning of “home”. To both the elderly and the young, home is meant more than satisfying the very basic need of accommodation in living. More importantly, a state is made up of homes and a home is made up of people. If our families lack coherence, how could our society be harmonious?

Mr President, with these remarks, I support the Motion and Amendments.

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