Hongkongers who won’t qualify for elderly welfare payments after age threshold change will receive support, minister vows

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

Hong Kong’s welfare chief has pledged to provide support for needy residents who will no longer qualify for elderly welfare payments after a controversial change in age threshold kicks in next month.

Speaking on a radio programme on Monday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong vowed to include measures such as making it easier for applicants to qualify for regular welfare payments by raising the mark for disregarded earnings.

Another proposal he raised was to streamline application procedures so those in poor health can get the equivalent of elderly welfare payments.

“We have been exploring the possibility of adjusting or improving the system since I took office. Some ideas are actually feasible. We can consider implementing them earlier, especially measures that can help recipients aged 60 to 64,” Law said.

His comments are seen as an attempt to quell public outcry over the new policy which would raise the age threshold for an elderly tier under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme from 60 to 65.

Disregarded earnings refer to income from employment that is not taken into account when assessing the amount payable to a CSSA recipient. The maximum monthly disregarded earnings is currently set at HK$2,500.

Law did not elaborate on adjustments, but promised they would be implemented by February.

On disregarded earnings, Law said the present cap was set in 2003, almost 16 years ago. “So, it is definitely time to review that particular amount.”

But he poured cold water on suggestions that the government’s Community Care Fund could be used to subsidise those affected. The fund was set up to ease the burden on the needy who fall out of social safety nets.

“This would require a decision to change the policy,” Law said. “At the moment, I think the chances of that are quite low.”

Speaking after the programme, Law said the government would try to make improvements to the CSSA scheme on February 1, such as in the application process for disability welfare payments.

He said some residents had complained about the procedure being too complicated.

“As it is purely an administrative change, we can begin on February 1,” Law said.

Other improvements, which may involve changes in public expenditure, will have to go through lengthier processes, he added.

But Lee Tai-shing, spokesman of protest group CSSA Rights Defence, slammed Law for shifting the narrative.

“Raising the amount of disregarded earnings only helps those with relatively high incomes to have less deducted from their CSSA payments,” he said.

“I believe there will only be a small number of elderly benefiting from the move, and unemployed CSSA recipients in the 60 to 64 age bracket will still be punished.”

Approved by lawmakers last year, the adjustment in age threshold for the elderly CSSA scheme would kick in from February.

The decision sparked controversy last week, with lawmakers across the political spectrum calling on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to halt the move, believing it could leave thousands of elderly poor with less income.

People aged 60 to 64 will only be able to get normal adult rates for CSSA payments, which are about 30 per cent lower, or HK$1,030 less a month.

Lam, 61, had stressed that the change would not be reversed, adding that it was reasonable considering the city’s improved life expectancy and the global trend of people working past 60. She cited herself as an example, drawing more fire and accusations that she was out of touch and insensitive.

Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, who represents the social welfare constituency, recommended the government put the plan on hold for about three years and review the entire CSSA system.

Shiu has put forth a motion to the Legislative Council that will be discussed at its Wednesday meeting.

“Given that the CSSA scheme is outdated, the amount of assistance received by recipients is unable to cover their basic needs in daily life,” his motion read.

“This council urges the government to immediately review and improve the CSSA scheme, particularly the mechanism to determine the amount of assistance, to safeguard the basic income of recipients.”



Category: Hong Kong

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