The need to care more for the carers


Professor CHAN Chak-kwan, Dickson


Professor Dickson Chan, the Director of the Lingnan-based Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS) since 2018, first became fascinated by social policy research during his post graduate studies in the UK. He’d begun his working life as a social worker, and the focus of his PhD thesis was the social security system in Hong Kong.


While subsequently moving back and forth between Hong Kong and Britain, he examined the introduction of a welfare-to-work policy in the SAR, and then became interested in the changes that were being to Mainland China’s welfare system and the impact these were having on the well-being of the workers who had been made redundant in the course of the country’s economic evolution. His research work on Hong Kong and China’s social security policies were published in books and international journals such as Journal of Social Policy, Social Service Review and Social Policy and Administration.


Prior to taking up his role with APIAS, Professor Chan and his colleagues at Nottingham Trent University studied the needs of informal carers who were looking after elderly parents or family members with significant mental or physical impairments. While these carers were likely to experience financial problems, due to their inability to hold down full time jobs, their greatest need was for support to help them cope with the psychological impact of their role. Money worries, the limits placed on their social lives, and the sheer exhaustion arising from their responsibilities, all increased the chances of them becoming mental health patients, themselves. The key findings of the study was reported in local and regional policy forums and were also published in the British Journal of Social Work.


Professor Chan and his collaborators found that the support system available to informal carers in the UK was far from perfect. From 2010 onwards, the government had made significant cuts to social services budgets, as part of its broader austerity measures, and there was also a clear need for improved training for front-line staff providing psychological support and counselling services. Even so, the situation was much better than in Hong Kong. Unlike in the UK, only a limited number of carers in the SAR currently receive financial support and there are strict conditions placed on their working hours.


Traditionally in Hong Kong, the young generations have looked after older family members but a number of factors have been conspiring to make that arrangement less and less common. Smaller housing units make it more difficult for generations to live together, longer working hours leave less time for employed family members to look after their parents, and the low birth rate in the SAR means that the burden falls more heavily on a smaller number of children. While the middle class can employ domestic helpers to care for their parents, a higher percentage of Hong Kong’s elderly now live in nursing homes than in other developed economies, and these homes offer little individual space to those unable to pay extremely high fees.


Professor Chan is currently leading several research projects, funded by grants totalling  HK$2.6 million, that are investigating long-term care provision and the needs of carers, in Hong Kong and in the city of Jiangmen on the Mainland. He hopes that these studies will shed light on the limitations of existing policies, and offer solutions to policy makers and welfare practitioners so they can provide such support to older people and their carers they can enjoy a good quality of life.


To know more about Professor Dickson Chan's research projects, please click Lingnan Scholars.