One-third of new applicants for HK elderly welfare payments stand to lose out on thousands per month because of rise in age threshold

13-Feb-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

About one in three new applicants for Hong Kong’s basic social assistance for those aged 60 to 64 will get a few thousand dollars less in subsidies after the age threshold was lifted to 65, the city’s welfare chief revealed on Monday.

Law Chi-kwong, head of the Labour and Welfare Bureau, was responding to lawmakers’ questions on the government’s decision to raise the lower age limit on the comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme for elderly people from 60 to 65 starting in February.

In light of the change, the basic CSSA payment for a new able-bodied recipient aged 60 to 64 will drop from HK$3,585 (US$457) to HK$2,525 per month. Faced with public anger, the government compromised in January and announced a new employment support supplement of HK$1,060 per month for the affected group, with no conditions attached the exact difference between the rates that single adults and their counterparts over 65 will be getting under the new policy.

Law told a Legislative Council welfare panel meeting on Monday that up to 30 per cent of new CSSA applicants aged 60 to 64 could lose 14 types of subsidies such as those for transport, housing and medical care because they were able-bodied.

These subsidies could amount to a few thousand dollars less than what elderly welfare recipients might have stood to receive had the policy change not happened, according to Social Welfare Department guidelines for the scheme.

For example, an elderly CSSA recipient could have a community living supplement of HK$340 per month and a special grant for rent deposit, which could be more than HK$3,700 for a single-person family under the scheme.

All CSSA recipients aged 60 or above were eligible for these subsidies before the age threshold was changed. But new applicants younger than 65 will now be able to apply for them only if they are disabled or in ill-health.

“About 70 per cent of the new applicants aged between 60 and 64 won’t be affected because they are in ill-health,” Law said. “Some 20 to 30 per cent of applicants may be affected.”

Law did not provide specific numbers, and there have been disputes on the new policy’s scope of impact.

Lam Ching-choi, an Executive Council member and chair of the Elderly Commission, estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 new applicants might be affected. Welfare sector legislator Shiu Ka-chun said the actual number would likely be 10 times Lam’s estimation.

Determining the exact numbers is complicated by the fact that official data collected by the Social Welfare Department puts able-bodied applicants in the same category as those with up to 50 per cent disability. As of the end of November, a total of 14,700 individuals aged 60 to 64 fell into the category.

A spokeswoman for the Social Welfare Department said the government could not provide an estimated number of new CSSA applicants between 60 and 64. “We will have to collect the numbers from actual applications,” she said.

The spokeswoman added that by the end of last November, there were 19,123 individuals aged 55 to 59 under the CSSA scheme, 66 per cent of whom or 12,603 people were disabled or in ill-health.

Law insisted that nothing had been taken from recipients when asked by outspoken medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki if the government would return the supplements and grants to new CSSA applicants aged 60 to 64.

“We didn’t kick anyone off [the CSSA scheme] as all current recipients aged between 60 and 64 will not be affected,” Law said.

Ignoring Kwok’s accusation he was “playing with words”, Law continued: “This is a fact. We didn’t take away anything, and we don’t need to return anything to them.”

Law said the government would complete a review of all the supplements and grants under the CSSA scheme by the end of this year and potential change of policies might be implemented in the 2020-21 financial year.


Category: Hong Kong

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