Thursday, December 23, 2010

Retire on the cheap in China? Not so easy

Dec 23, 2010

Soaring prices there make it tough for retirees from Hong Kong to survive on their savings
By Lee Choo Kiong

WHEN street hawker Ng Ching retired 13 years ago, he moved from Hong Kong to southern Guangdong province - where he thought he could stretch what little savings he had, with some help from his relatives there.

But when he returned to Hong Kong last month, the 82-year-old was desperate and destitute, his money long gone.

Mr Ng's dream of spending his retirement years in relatively cheap mainland China - shared by hundreds of other ordinary Hong Kongers - had been scuttled by the red-hot Chinese economy leading to soaring prices.

He was among the 100 destitute Hong Kongers who were escorted back to the Chinese city from the mainland by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) in the first 11 months of this year.

The spokesman for the FTU's mainland consultation services centre told The Straits Times the federation had helped arrange for 110 retirees to return last year and another 90 in 2008.

In the four years from 2004 to 2007, there were only about 40 such cases in all.

'Rapid development, rising standard of living and high inflation are making life difficult for some of the elderly people living on the mainland,' said the spokesman.

According to FTU figures, most of those who returned to Hong Kong were more than 75 years old. The oldest was 102.

'The bulk of these people are admitted into nursing homes, mainly because they have been away for a long time and no longer have property, relatives or friends in Hong Kong,' the spokesman said.

About 40,000 elderly Hong Kongers in mainland China face the same grim prospect of outlasting their savings, Sing Tao Daily reported.

This problem is the most serious in Shenzhen and Dongguan, the top cities for retirement in Guangdong province for Hong Kongers.

There have been calls for the Hong Kong government to relax some of the conditions to qualify for the Old Age Allowance (OAA). Hong Kongers aged 65 and above receive a cash allowance of HK$1,000 (S$170) a month.

But currently, they must stay in the territory for at least 90 days to qualify.

Although the government is expected to shorten this to 60 days in February next year, critics say it should do away with the minimum residence period instead.

They reason that some senior residents have no choice but to forgo the allowance because of ill health, which prevents them from travelling back, or because they have nowhere to stay in Hong Kong.

Mr Albert Poon, assistant officer at the FTU's centre in Shenzhen, thinks it makes more economic sense for the Hong Kong authorities to give the money with no strings attached so the retirees can continue to live in mainland China.

'If these old folk check into nursing homes in Hong Kong, the government would have to take full responsibility for the monthly fees ranging from HK$8,000 to HK$10,000,' he was quoted as saying in the Southern Metropolis Daily.

Most old folks' homes on the mainland charge well under 4,000 yuan (S$790) a month.

The Hong Kong government spent HK$6.32 billion on the OAA in 2009 to 2010, according to figures from its Labour and Welfare Bureau.

More than 500,000 people were under the scheme at the end of September this year.

A 2007 survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department showed that almost 40,000 OAA recipients lived on the mainland.

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