Carrie Lam brings in new payment for HK’s elderly poor as government looks to end backlash against changes to Comprehensive Social Security Allowance

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

Carrie Lam brings in new payment for Hong Kong’s elderly poor as government looks to end backlash against changes to Comprehensive Social Security Allowance

Hong Kong’s leader on Friday announced a new cash handout for the elderly poor, along with two other welfare changes, as her government sought to quell bipartisan anger at its revisions to an existing old-age benefit.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted there was room for improvement in the government’s handling of changes to the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance (CSSA) scheme, but insisted she was not bowing to pressure.

The new Employment Support Supplement will be HK$1,060 (US$136) the exact difference between the rates for adults and the over-65s under the new CSSA rules.

Taking that amount from people aged 60 to 64 by raising the minimum age to 65 was what sparked the anger in the first place. The backlash had come from all parts of the often-divided Legislative Council chamber, uniting pan-democrats and pro-Beijingers behind a rare common cause.

The monthly allowance will go to all able-bodied CSSA recipients between 60 and 64, Lam said.

“The supplement will be paid along with other welfare benefits enjoyed by the recipients and does not require a separate application,” Lam said.

And after more than a week of anger over the CSSA changes, the city leader conceded they could have been handled better.

“What I am saying and confessing today is, in the actual implementation and planning, there is room for improvement. And today’s announcement is improvement measures to ensure more effective and more compassionate implementation of the policy initiatives,” she said.

“I would not regard that as backing down, yielding to pressure or being populist.”

Welfare minister Dr Law Chi-kwong said the new measures were not transitional, meaning there was no plan to eventually withdraw the supplement.

‘I’m over 60 and work 10 hours a day’: Lam defends raising welfare age limit

The new allowance was one of three measures Lam said were to “improve the implementation of three reasonable and well-founded labour and welfare policies”.

The other two included pushing back a planned cut to the number of teams of social workers helping people find jobs, to the end of March in 2020.

The third was bringing forward improved labour protection for unskilled staff hired by government contractors. Anyone hired from December 10, 2018 to March 31, 2019 when new contract terms announced last year were to take effect will now be covered.

But an opposition legislator said the new allowance was short of statistical support.

This is a face-saving measure rather than a real service to the people in need

Fernando Cheung, legislator

Legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said: “How many of the elderly recipients of CSSA aged between 60 and 64 are currently working? How many of them can’t work due to physical disadvantages? The government cannot provide any relevant numbers.”

He said the new measure was intended to save face for the administration, during its first crisis of the new year.

“This is a face-saving measure rather than a real service to the people in need,” he said.

The initial CSSA change was included in last year’s budget. When the furore arose last week, Lam noted this, saying she was surprised at legislators’ anger, given they voted the budget bill through. But lawmakers said the change was a small part of a large and consequential document, which they could not hold up for one policy change.

The CSSA pays HK$2,525 per month to adults and HK$3,585 to the elderly. The new minimum age for the elderly will come in on February 1.

The 41 teams helping jobseekers were set up by 26 NGOs under the Social Welfare Department’s Support for Self-reliance Scheme. They serve CSSA recipients. Their number was previously planned to be cut by the end of this March, at the recommendation of the Audit Commission.

Lam announced the improved terms for contractors on December 10 last year the date from which they will apply, after Friday’s news. They had been slated to come in on April 1.

The new terms were: a 6 per cent gratuity for employees who work 12 consecutive months; full pay during statutory leave for employees who have worked for more than a month; and a 50 per cent pay bump for each day worked in extreme weather.


Category: Hong Kong

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