Hong Kong lawmakers and NGOs have urged the government to strengthen support for carers after two middle-aged brothers who reportedly had intellectual disabilities were found dead at home following their mother’s admission to the hospital.

Hong Kong's city landscape with a view of public housing estate in Kowloon.
Hong Kong’s city landscape with a view of a public housing estate in Kowloon. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Police suspected that the two brothers, aged 53 and 55, died from starvation in Sau Mau Ping, Ming Pao reported.

According to local media reports, a security guard noticed an unusual smell from the men’s 38th floor unit and called the police. Firefighters arrived and broke into the house, where they discovered two decomposing bodies.

There was no food in their apartment’s fridge, police said.

According to the Hospital Authority, the mother was admitted to hospital in May due to a fungal infection. It also said that the two brothers had gone to the psychiatry department at public hospitals from 2014 to 2018. They were classified as stable cases and last attended appointments early 2018.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun said on Saturday that there was no record of the family seeking help from the Social Welfare Department. He added that the government would try to build a stronger social safety net to support caregivers.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Doreen Kong told Wen Wei Po that in improving measures to support carers, government departments such as the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau, Health Bureau and Social Welfare Department needed to work together.

Chris Sun
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun (Left). File photo: GovHK.

She suggested that government departments should develop a central system to share information about high risk cases.

Chief Executive John Lee said in his Policy Address last year that authorities would launch a series of measures to assist carers, such as set up a designated 24-hour hotline. The hotline, however, will only be introduced at the end of this month.

Lawmaker Frankie Ngan said the one-year preparatory work was “definitely slow,” and urged authorities to speed up its progress.

Lee Mei Yin, a board member of NGO Hong Kong Association of Workers Serving Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, said different government departments were responsible for the incident, and urged the authorities to probe the causes of the tragedy.

Social Worker and district councillor Sumly Chan said it was dangerous to leave people with intellectual disabilities unaccompanied as they might encounter difficulties in finding food and taking care of themselves. He urged the government to strengthen social services for people with disabilities and their carers.

Carers’ burden

Hong Kong, a city facing an aging population, has seen numerous incidents related to caregivers and their burdens in recent years.

Last December, a couple in their 70s were arrested over allegedly killing their 47-year-old daughter who had long-term illness. The tragedy marked the fifth caregiver-involved cases in four months.

Care for Carers
Care for Carers, a joint platform formed by 20 NGOs and concern groups, promoted the role of carers to the public in 2022. Photo: Care for Carers’ Facebook.

Care for Carers, a joint platform formed by 20 NGOs and concern groups, estimated in 2022 that there were currently around 900,000 carers in Hong Kong taking care of people – including children and elderly – with disabilities, long-term illnesses and special needs.

The platform suggested that authorities increase financial support for carers, raise awareness of the role of carers to the public, and establish a one-stop centre for carers.

According to a report by the Census and Statistics Department on Hong Kong’s carers, over 50 per cent of carers who lived with and took care of people with disabilities and long-term illnesses indicated that they felt stressed in the past month.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.