Survey reveals harsh realities for HK’s subdivided flat caregivers: 89.6% women, high rent burden, and critical support for children with special needs

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1st May 2024 – (Hong Kong) A groundbreaking study conducted by Lingnan University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong has shone a light on a particularly vulnerable group within these confines: caregivers.

From October 2023 to April 2024, the research team surveyed 317 caregivers living in subdivided flats, revealing stark insights into their mental health and living conditions, while analysing how cramped spaces affect personal health and family dynamics.

The survey uncovered that a staggering 89.6% of respondents are women, predominantly aged between 40 and 49. These caregivers often manage their responsibilities in units as small as 100 to 199 square feet, with rents consuming 40% of their family income on average.

Despite their critical role, these caregivers receive scant recognition. Nearly 30% are caring for children with Special Education Needs, including autism, indicating a high level of dependency and care required. The physical constraints of their living conditions pose significant challenges, not only in terms of space but also in maintaining health, safety, and well-being.

Dr. Ruby Lai from Lingnan University and Dr. Crystal Chan from CUHK, through their extensive fieldwork, identified a significant yet often overlooked aspect of these caregivers’ lives: ‘residential labour’. This term refers to the additional efforts caregivers must make to adapt their living environment to meet basic living standards. From setting up temporary cooking spaces to rearranging cramped quarters continuously to accommodate daily activities, these tasks are time-consuming and mentally draining.

The study found that 95% of caregivers experienced a high burden due to their caregiving duties, with 20.5% showing symptoms of depression, and a similar percentage exhibited signs of anxiety. These mental health challenges are exacerbated by the physical and emotional demands of their roles, compounded by inadequate living conditions.

The findings of this survey have prompted several policy recommendations aimed at alleviating the hardships faced by partitioned flat caregivers:

  1. Regularisation of Cash Subsidies: Given the high rent-to-income ratio, there is a pressing need for the regularisation and enhancement of cash subsidy schemes to reduce the financial burden on these families.
  2. Support for Community Connectivity: Establishing ‘community living rooms’ within walking distance for partitioned flat residents could significantly improve their quality of life by providing additional living space and fostering community ties.
  3. Housing Standards Reform: The government is urged to establish minimum living standards for partitioned flats that ensure adequate space, ventilation, and basic amenities to make these environments livable and conducive to caregiving.
  4. Expanding the Definition of Caregivers: Current policies largely overlook caregivers of children with Special Education Needs. It’s crucial that these caregivers are recognized and supported through financial aids, tax reliefs, and priority in public housing allocation.

The study not only highlights the critical yet unrecognised work done by partitioned flat caregivers but also calls for a reevaluation of how society and policymakers perceive and support these individuals. As Hong Kong continues to grapple with housing and social issues, acknowledging and addressing the needs of its most vulnerable residents will be essential for fostering a more inclusive and supportive urban environment.