Activists call for overhaul of CSSA, with Hongkongers on welfare payments struggling to get by

17-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

When Yeung Suen was about 36 years old working for a factory making plastic bags, he injured his back at work making him unable to continue his job.

For over 20 years, the back problem has persisted and he also suffered from stomach ulcers and depression.

Having no family members he keeps in contact with, Yeung has no choice but to rely on the comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme, which is intended to only help meet basic needs.

As he is considered to be in ill-health, he receives around HK$5,000 a month.

“That is barely enough,” Yeung, who is now 60, lamented, adding he has had to scrimp and save to get by.

“I usually spend HK$20 buying 600g of fish, which I will preserve for dinners for the week.”

He can only afford to spend around HK$1,500 on food each month.

While most of his medical expenses are covered under the scheme, he still has to set aside around HK$1,300 for traditional Chinese medication and additional gastric drugs for emergencies.

The remaining amount is used for other miscellaneous items, such as utility bills, buying clothes and going to an internet cafe as he does not have a computer at home.

The issue of the CSSA scheme being inadequate for supporting the needy was recently brought into the spotlight in Hong Kong after officials last week announced details of an unpopular move to raise the lower age limit on the elderly CSSA scheme from 60 to 65.

Coming into effect on February 1, the change will mean new applicants aged between 60 and 64 would get close to a third less in government payments than people of the same age who are currently on the scheme.

The move drew the ire of lawmakers, who spoke of the struggles of people in their 60s who have had to leave the workforce due to age and health problems.

But according to Lee Tai-shing, a spokesman for the pressure group CSSA Rights Defence, the recipients of the welfare scheme of other age groups and demographics were also having difficulty getting by. The CSSA covers people with disabilities, ill-health, the unemployed and elderly meeting income and assets tests.

With rents going up by so much in Hong Kong, the rent allowance is often not enough

Lee Tai-shing, CSSA Rights Defence

“The CSSA scheme has not been comprehensively reviewed since 1996,” he said.

“For example, with rents going up by so much in Hong Kong, the rent allowance is often not enough.”

For example, for the rent allowance, the maximum level per month for a one-person household is HK$1,835, while that for a four-person household is HK$5,135.

Lee Chi-yung, whose daughter was on the CSSA scheme for disability, spoke of lengthy waiting times to get funding for certain rehabilitation items.

“Last year, my daughter needed a new wheelchair because the old one had worn out and had faulty parts, including the brake,” he said.

Lee’s daughter was severely intellectually handicapped and suffered from methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that occurs when too little oxygen is delivered to the cells of the body.

“We applied for funding for the new wheelchair in 2017 but it took more than six months and my daughter passed away before that,” he said.

“I felt bad as I noticed her not having a comfortable sitting posture and having difficulties breathing.”

Lee suggested the Social Welfare Department create an account for CSSA recipients to buy items that are likely to be approved.

Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun will move a motion on Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting to review the entire CSSA scheme.


Category: Hong Kong

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