By Tim Pemberton
Caring for caregivers
Global life expectancy has risen by more than five years since the start of the century and this is a wonderful thing. It means more years to enjoy with family and friends.
Demographic change also poses challenges, however. The number of people in the world aged 60 and above is predicted to reach 2.1 billion by the middle of this century. While some may enjoy good health well into their later years, others will increasingly need support.
Societies all around the world are grappling with the implications. When it comes to providing care, what are the roles of the state, individual and family? Can public services be redesigned to help us live independent and fulfilling lives for longer?
People worldwide aged 60+ in 2050
Hong Kong is at the sharp end of these challenges. Around one in six residents is already aged 65 or over, according to local authorities. More than 40,000 Hong Kongers of working age care for older relatives.
While caring can be profoundly rewarding, caregivers may also find it difficult to combine their family responsibilities with paid work. This makes it harder for them to support themselves and plan for their own retirement. Businesses may also lose out on skills and experience if caregivers drop out of the workforce.
As Hong Kong ages further, these challenges will become acute. By 2040, the number of older people needing support is expected to more than double. The direct cost of this ‘eldercare’ is set to rise from HKD39 billion (USD5 billion) today to HKD126 billion (USD16 billion) in 2040 and HKD220 billion (USD28 billion) by 2060. The indirect costs to employers and informal caregivers – in terms of lost productivity, skills and opportunities – will also rise steeply.
There are no easy solutions. But a new study, backed by HSBC Life*, suggests practical steps that various organisations can take to support caregivers and their families.
Flexible working could help businesses retain skilled people
Public authorities can help by drawing up a long-term strategy for family caregivers. It is important to acknowledge the valuable role that caregivers play, and to give them assistance. This could include access to professional training or funding for occasional respite care.
Employers can create a welcoming culture for people who combine work and caring. Being open to requests for flexible and home working could help businesses retain skilled people who might otherwise quit. Employers can also provide resources for staff networks, so employees with caring responsibilities can support each other.
Insurance providers have a role to play, too. They have traditionally helped parents make provision for their children. Today, the industry should perhaps also be developing new products that enable children to make provision for parents.
Meanwhile, some people may wish to anticipate their own potential need for care in the future. The insurance industry in Asia could learn from some of the long-term care solutions pioneered in North America and Western Europe. People buying these products pay premiums today for guaranteed medical coverage and support services in the future.
Last but not least, individuals should think about how they can prepare, both psychologically and financially, for potentially becoming caregivers themselves. Understanding the sources of support available to them could help them achieve peace of mind for the long term.
Many communities around the world need to deal with the consequences of ageing in the future. But Hong Kong, which has the longest life expectancy in the world, is among the first to face the reality. This is a challenge. It is also an opportunity to show how – with the right planning – an ageing society can be a thriving society.
*Note to editors
The Sau Po Centre on Ageing Life at The University of Hong Kong, The Women’s Foundation and HSBC Life worked together to produce Eldercare Hong Kong: The projected societal cost of eldercare in Hong Kong, 2018 to 2060 . The report aims to quantify the need for, and the cost of, eldercare in Hong Kong today and in just over 40 years’ time, and the subsequent cost to society, employers and individuals. The report makes a series of recommendations on how to support informal caregivers and older people in Hong Kong today and in the future. Find out more on the HSBC Hong Kong website (opens in new window) .