MR PRESIDENT: It is an established policy of the Government to encourage the physically impaired to integrate themselves into society. Yet, the Government does not provide meaningful supports to those who are taking unfailing and attentive care of these people day after day, like their spouse, children, parents, siblings as well as relatives and friends.
Not many of these care providers could afford to engage private nursing or at least domestic helpers to share their workload. Many of them have no other choice but to quit their jobs so that they may take care of handicapped patients in their families. More often than not, they might have to act as psychiatrist and provide counseling to their loved ones as well. Laden upon their shoulders are heavy psychological and physical stresses and challenges, and perhaps financial burden too. In turn, who and where could they look to for support and help themselves?
As the population in Hong Kong is growing older, we foresee that the problem would only aggravate as time goes by. The Government should plan ahead and look into comprehensive and feasible measures in support of family cares for the handicapped.
Of course, the most direct and ultimate solution is increasing the allotment of public funds to provide sufficient sanctuaries for the handicapped, but it would take time before the supply and demand could be matched. In the meantime, we should take imminent measures to provide better support to these family care providers.
Mr President, our honorable colleagues including Messrs WONG Sing-chi, CHEUNG Kwok-che, WONG Yuk-man and CHAN Hak-kan and others have put forward many constructive recommendations. I urge the Government to heed their words and devise a comprehensive scheme of support, including provision of subsidies to family care providers as a matter of urgency. I also support the suggestion of fellow Member Mr WONG Yuk-man on converting vacant schools into sanctuaries for the handicapped, and that of fellow Member Mr CHAN Hak-kan on bringing the approved list of drugs updated and optimized.
As a matter of fact, many countries and territories are providing different kinds of support to family care providers of the handicapped. Apart from personal counseling and health services, those governments are also offering to them financial relief in the form of cash allowance or additional income tax concessions. To cite a few example: Ireland offers “Carers’ Allowance”; the UK offers “Care Allowance”; Australia offers both “Care Payment” and “Care Allowance”; and Finland offers “Informal Care Allowance”. All these payments are intended to help relief the financial burden of affected families.
Mr President, Hong Kong is a helpful and caring society. We should show our hearts with actions by giving care and love to those in need. The physically impaired and their care providers are facing hardships of different scales, spiritually, physically and financially. I urge the Government to kick-start a study of this subject with a view to formulating a comprehensive policy on caring for the handicapped as well as support to their care providers, on whom they are closely dependent.