Helper company idea easier said than done

Editorial | Mary Ma 22 Nov 2017

That the administration is looking at giving elderly who live alone in public housing up to HK$8,000 a month to employ domestic helpers to look after them is commendable. It has never been as generous before.

The idea was recently floated by Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, and resoundingly endorsed by Elderly Commission chairman Lam Ching-choi.

Lam suggested this should be simple enough, and can be readily done by expanding the current community care service voucher for the elderly to cover the subsidy. Then, lonely old folks can secure a companion to tend to them.

But whoa, Nelly! Unfortunately, it isn't that simple.

As Law mulls over the idea, he'd better think twice before making a decision, since it doesn't appear to be as straightforward as contemplated by top welfare officials.

Aren't we talking about the elderly living alone? Then, the usual nitty-gritty that families with a helper are familiar with doesn't apply. The proposal can even be more dangerously complicated than the "generosity" that is intended.

For the oldsters, receiving the subsidy would only mark the beginning of a long list of hassles they will find difficult to handle, unless the government is committed to helping them every step of the way. That would include assisting them in the hiring of a helper and paying regular visits – and I mean weekly, not once every few months – to ensure everything is going smoothly.

When two adults stay together, it's more than the mathematical formula of one plus one equals two. It's about two grown-up individuals sharing an extremely small public housing unit designed for use by one.

Assuming the Housing Authority is willing to bend the rules to suit the policy, could tensions rise over time due to the crowded space?

The consequences could be deadly if the relationship between the elderly person and helper goes terribly wrong.

If Law can commit to setting up a vigorous monitoring system to make sure everybody is happy at the unit, it would be good news. But can he?

A sensible alternative is for those who have no family support and are unable to live independently to reside in dedicated homes for the elderly.

Instead of investing in the subsidies, wouldn't it make better sense to use the money to improve existing facilities or build new ones, and employ staff trained to look after the residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

There should be more homes with a friendly atmosphere rather than a prison-like environment.

If it takes time to upgrade the facilities, it would be practical in the short term to help the industry overcome the manpower shortage that, according to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, is acute due to the reluctance of local people to take up the job.

So, it would be far wiser to let in larger numbers of care-givers from outside the SAR, rather than giving subsidy vouchers to the elderly to hire their own domestic helpers.

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