Speech – Formulating a population policy (Lo Wai-kwok)

President, the SAR Government has all along failed to formulate any overall development strategy on population, rendering it hard to undertake long-term planning in many aspects. To be fair, it is not that the authorities do not notice the problems, and some corresponding actions have been taken. An example is that in July 2012, the Census and Statistics Department released a document called “Hong Kong Population Projections 2012-2041”. In November of the same year, the authorities reorganized the Steering Committee on Population Policy to include professionals from education, medical and nursing, social services, human resources management. They are to study the changes in demographic tructure for the next 30 years in Hong Kong and the major impact on the society and the economy. In view of the stark challenge posed by the trend of population change to our sustainable development, the actions taken by the authorities give people an impression that they are not strong enough or even empty talks.

Many members of the public are worried that the trend of population change will pose stark challenges to our sustainable development. This is not some unfounded worry. According to the data found in the population projections, three major trends are predicted. First, population growth will slow down gradually. It is estimated that the population will grow from 7.1 million in 2012 to 8.47 million in 2041. There will only be an annual growth rate of 0.6%. Although there is still growth in the population, due to the extremely low fertility rate in Hong Kong women during the past some 20 years, and with the gradual entering of local people of the post-war baby boom generation into retirement, the working population will dwindle starting from 2018. The workforce will reduce from 3.55 million in that year to 3.39 in 2041. Second, the number of elderly persons aged 65 or above will surge greatly from 980 000 last year to 2.56 million in 2041. Third, the affordability of our public finance over the long term will come under great pressure. At present, 1.5 million people from our working population have to pay salaries tax, but with factors like the fall in working population, population ageing and the rise in average life expectancy, the ratio of elderly dependency will drop from five persons aged 15 to 64 for one elderly person to two persons for one elderly person.

Challenges often exist alongside with opportunities. The SAR Government must face up to the various challenges brought about by changes in the demographic structure of Hong Kong. It should undertake planning as soon as possible in order to minimize all kinds of negative impacts and seize the new opportunities of development. For example, in line with the abovementioned three trends, I would think that the Administration must fix the problem according to the symptoms. One way is to replenish labour force in terms of quality and quantity. Outstanding human resources have always been a basic factor accounting for Hong Kong’s success. Any decline in the supply of labour force will impede the progress of Hong Kong’s economy and various trades and industries. How should this impasse be shattered? When repletion is to be made in terms of quantity, the authorities can promote family-friendly measures and flexible retirement arrangements to attract more women and elderly persons to join the labour market and encourage Hong Kong people who have emigrated overseas and their second generation to return to Hong Kong. Besides, the Government should take into account the future needs of economic development and undertake a review of and make improvements in various kinds of admission of talents schemes. As for quality, the Government should undertake planning and enhance vocational education and the training of talents. This is to reduce a mismatch of jobs at all levels in human resources.

Second, the “silver hair” market should be developed in line with the trend of population ageing. It is true that many problems will be derived from population ageing, but if we can consider from a positive perspective, the elderly persons can become a new driving force for social development. On the one hand, the authorities should foster a suitable environment so that elderly persons who have retired can serve the community again with their rich experience. On the other hand, the demand for elderly services will produce a large “silver hair” market. The elderly persons will have ever-increasing demand for health and personal care, wealth management and leisure.

Third, well-conceived planning in public finance can ensure the quality of all kinds of social services. Since changes in the demographic structure will have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on policies and expenditures in education, healthcare, social security and welfare. Can Hong Kong continue with its financial commitments? As growth in revenue from salaries tax levels off, can Hong Kong open up new sources of tax revenue? The authorities must consider these questions seriously in order that public finance tactics can be formulated and kept abreast of the times.

President, the problems are all intertwined and need to be dealt with and solved together by all sectors across the community. The SAR Government should set up an executive framework especially tasked with the planning of population policy in order to put into practice population policy at the short, medium and long terms. It should also undertake full-scale planning of the demand for public services at various economic levels. The authorities should conduct regular reviews of the effectiveness of all policies and make timely adjustments. This is to cope with the challenges arising from changes in the population, thereby enabling Hong Kong to seize all kinds of new opportunities for sustainable development of its economy and society.

President, I so submit.


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