“I cannot fall sick because then there would be no one to take care of her.” – Ms Lee, a caregiver who gave up her full-time job to look after her ailing mother
Some 89,000 Hong Kongers will provide unpaid eldercare to family members in the next 20 years and the numbers are expected to climb. This elderly care burden on women and men in the Hong Kong workforce is a worrying issue especially when individuals give up work to care for elderly dependents.
For the individual, these obligations create financial stress and career costs, and these challenges fall disproportionately on women. For the economy, this is contributing to an already shrinking workforce.
To understand the impact of these issues, TWF initiated a joint partnership with HSBC Life and the Sau Po Centre on Ageing at the University of Hong Kong to examine the future economic cost of eldercare in Hong Kong in the coming decades on individuals, on employers and to the city as a whole.
The findings are sobering on all three counts. As life expectancy in Hong Kong rises, the cost of taking care of elderly people who are in need of care in Hong Kong is expected to reach HK$222.4 billion per year by 2060, an increase of 5.7 times from the current cost of HK$38.8 billion per year.
By 2060, 11% of the total Hong Kong population will require eldercare, doubling 2.6 times from 5% in 2018. This naturally means the number of informal working caregivers will also dramatically increase. Employers are not immune –costs associated with lost productivity as well as staff replacement and retraining are projected to rise 4.7 times to a loss of HK$8.4 billion by 2060.
Caregiving responsibilities are shouldered by people of all ages but when it comes to gender, the burden typically falls on women. According to the study, more than half of all caregivers (58%) were women in 2018. The imbalance will persist, with 62% of the caregivers still expected to be female in 2060.
Overall, by 2060, women caregivers will bear an opportunity cost of HK$400 million more than male caregivers.
We should all be deeply concerned with the growing eldercare burden on Hong Kong’s workforce, which will contribute to an already low female workforce participation rate and impact efforts to build greater gender diversity at leadership levels.
We believe tackling this issue requires objective, reliable data and urgent cross-sector public-private collaboration. We support the full participation of women at work, particularly encouraging female caregivers to remain or re-enter into the formal economy to counterbalance a shrinking workforce and tackle this issue which is deeply important for the future economy of Hong Kong.
To alleviate the overall societal cost to Hong Kong, the material costs to both employers and caregivers it’s imperative to put in place policies and practices now that better support employees with caregiving responsibilities. The Government also needs to draw up long term strategies to support family caregivers.
We will be working with a range of stakeholders to adopt some of these recommendations in the coming months. We urge you – as an employer or an individual – to read through the full report and recommendations to consider what actions you can take to minimise the adverse impacts of informal caregiving and support the full participation of women in our economy.
We would love to hear from you if your organisation has adopted any best practices to support employees who are informal caregivers. We would also welcome any innovative, practical ideas to address this issue.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.