Hong Kong’s welfare authorities should encourage employers to offer flexible workplace arrangements for staff who care for the elderly or people with disabilities at home, a government-commissioned report has recommended.
The Labour and Welfare Bureau on Thursday released the study conducted by Polytechnic University to identify the needs of carers.
The team interviewed about 5,000 people, including seniors, people with disabilities and their carers, as well as stakeholders such as professional staff working in elderly and rehabilitation services.
“Unpaid informal carers play an essential role in assisting frail elderly persons and persons with disabilities to carry out their daily activities … Therefore, [their] well-being … can be further improved through the enhancement of carer support,” the report said.
The team found that carers often felt the support for them was scattered and difficult to access because of a lack of adequate information on eligibility and time clashes with work.
Carers in Hong Kong have long faced physical and mental pressures looking after those in need of support. In the past few years, there have been incidents in which carers took their own lives or even killed those in their care before committing suicide.
Hong Kong’s population is ageing rapidly, with the number of elderly people projected to rise from 1.32 million in 2019 to 2.07 million in 2029, or 26 per cent of the city’s total population.
The elderly dependency ratio per 1,000 people is expected to grow from 249 in 2019 to 408 in 2029 and 606 by 2069.
The government’s support services for carers include training for caregiving skills, emotional support, respite care, lending rehabilitation aid and various pilot schemes for financial assistance.
The report made 11 specific recommendations.
Among the suggestions was encouraging employers to establish a carer-friendly support environment in the workplace to help staff strike a balance between their professional lives and attending to the person under their care: for example, giving carers days off to accompany those in need to a medical appointment and offering flexible work arrangements so that they can carry out their caretaking duties while working.
Large and public enterprises should be encouraged to operate their own day care centres to cater to frail elderly residents looked after by their employees, the report recommended, adding that the government should provide a mix of services, vouchers and cash to support carers.
Authorities should also enhance an existing 24-hour hotline run by the Social Welfare Department, as well as other hotlines operated by NGOs and social enterprises, setting up special services for carers and strengthening their capacity to address their needs, and explore setting up an emergency centre for high-risk carers, such as those looking after residents with dementia, according to the report.
To increase the self-awareness of carers and identify their risks and needs, authorities should develop a local self-administered assessment tool for carers and match them with appropriate service providers, the study suggested.
Other recommendations included cultivating a carer-friendly neighbourhood, raising awareness about access to information among those looking after others and their willingness to seek help, providing training and intervention, as well as better use of technology.
The government said on Thursday that it accepted the recommendations in principle and would follow up on them.
“The government encourages ageing in place and assists persons with disabilities to live in the community. Carers play an indispensable and important role in helping elderly persons and persons with disabilities live at home,” a bureau spokesman said.