HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam admits welfare failings after uproar over elderly CSSA changes and cash handout applications

30-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:24 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader has accepted public criticism for the poor handling of two contentious welfare issues that have plunged her government into its first major political crisis of the year.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted on Tuesday that the way officials had introduced a highly unpopular rise in the age threshold for elderly welfare payments and managed a cash handout had led to doubts about her administration’s competence as well as her own leadership.

“The implementation of these measures has made people question the ability of this administration to govern,” Lam said. “I completely accept this criticism.”

She pledged that the experience would serve as “a good reminder for our future work”.

The criticism came in two volleys. The first followed the government’s announcement that the age threshold for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) would jump from 60 to 65, starting next month.

The second was for the inconvenient application process for a cash handout of up to HK$4,000, which opens on Friday. The handout is for people who neither own property nor get welfare benefits.

On Tuesday, Lam also said officials could have made sure support measures were in place before bringing in the CSSA changes.

I will confess, in the actual implementation, we could have done better

Chief Executive Carrie Lam

“I will confess, in the actual implementation, we could have done better,” she said.

Her remarks were in stark contrast with what she said at a Legislative Council meeting on January 10. Back then, she told lawmakers it was they who approved the change in the CSSA scheme, as part of last year’s budget.

“The item was approved with the budget by you,” the chief executive said. “So I was shocked to hear [the criticism].”

Lam met lawmakers from both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps to hear their concerns. But she refused to halt the changes, under which new, able-bodied CSSA recipients aged 60 to 64 would lose out.

Instead, Lam announced on January 18 that people affected would get a new employment support supplement, which precisely makes up the difference between the old and new payments.

With unemployment at a 20-year low of 2.8 per cent, Lam said on Tuesday it was a good time to tweak the policy and encourage people to return to work.

The government also bowed to pressure on applications for its cash handout. Under the scheme, adult residents will get up to HK$4,000 if they do not own property or get government benefits.

Those who are given tax breaks will get the difference between HK$4,000 and the concessionary amount.

Applicants were initially required to provide an address proof, but the government later waived it.

Social welfare sector legislator Shiu Ka-chun said officials had undermined his sector’s involvement in policymaking.

“From 2017 to now, the social welfare sector has not been involved in the discussion [over the changes to the CSSA scheme],” Shiu said.

The pro-democracy lawmaker also said Lam’s rationale over the unemployment rate was flawed.

While the overall employment rate was high, Shiu said fewer than half of those aged 60 to 64 were working.


Category: Hong Kong

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