Like many people in her generation, Yeung had little in personal savings to begin with. She used to work day and night as a tailor in Macau, but she could only afford to live in a squatter hut on her meagre income. “How could I save a penny?” says Yeung. “I didn’t even have enough to feed myself!”
She is now depending on the monthly Old Age Allowance of $1,000. This is her only income so she has to be frugal; she has to buy food for herself during the day and on weekends when her daughter-in-law cannot prepare the family meals. She is also responsible for all her medical and miscellaneous expenses.
The fact that the elderly cannot rely on their children or savings means they have to survive on social assistance, their wits and their own bare hands. Ms Ho, 70, supports herself by collecting used cardboard and aluminium cans on the streets that she can sell to recyclers.
“I try to collect more so that I can buy more vegetables,” she says.
Life as a waste-collector is hard, the buyers keep offering lower prices and she is in no position to bargain. “It has always been like this: no talk!” Ho exclaims as she describes a recent experience, when her 2 kilogram collection was valued at 1 kilogram.
Some elderly people try to find work, but age is a problem when it comes to employment. Tam Kit is ashamed of relying on his 59-year-old wife and wants to fend for himself. He has applied for jobs, but nobody will hire him at the age of 75.
“I read in the newspapers that delivery men are wanted. It says there is ‘no age limit’, but people will not use you in the end,” Tam sighs.
The elderly find they are excluded from socio-economic activities. As their physical capabilities deteriorate, so do their work opportunities. “Therefore they are more likely to fall into the poverty net,” says Professor Wong Chackkie from the Chinese University of Hong Kong Social Work Department.
As working is not really an option for most elderly people, social welfare is their only means of survival. Under the Old Age Allowance, individuals aged 65 or older can get a monthly $1,000 payment from the government, provided they have resided in Hong Kong for 60 days a year. The elderly can also apply for means-tested Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments.