Billions more for struggling elderly
Colleen Lee and Emily Tsang
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday delivered a multibillion-dollar package of relief measures to improve the lives of the elderly poor and boost the development of social enterprises.
Amid his falling popularity and in response to mounting calls for him to deliver on his election pledges, Leung used his maiden Legco question-and-answer session to announce that a HK$6-billion-a-year plan to give 400,000 elderly poor people HK$2,200 a month would open for applications next year.
The government will seek funding from the Legislative Council's Finance Committee in October and the handout for those aged at least 65 who passed the means test - which would double the current Old Age Allowance of HK$1,090 a month - could be backdated to the time when the funding request was approved.
From next year, the value of medical vouchers for those aged 70 or above would also be doubled to HK$1,000 a year, at an annual cost of HK$350 million, Leung said, to benefit some 700,000 people.
Leung also proposed to seek HK$500 million from the Lotteries Fund to set up a Social Enterprise Development Fund, which would provide loans to assist in developing social enterprises, which employ those in the marginalised sectors.
Unveiling the details of the new old age allowance, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said it was a 'long-term measure'.
'We do not want to do one-off measures again as it means the resources we put in cannot go to those who really need it. [Instead,] this is a project targeted directly at the underprivileged group,' he said.
Cheung also rejected suggestions that the new allowance might polarise the elderly, as those not entitled to it would receive only HK$1,090 a month.
Under the new scheme, applicants have to be aged 65 or above. The income and asset limits of the new scheme will also be the same as for the Old Age Allowance for applicants aged 65 to 69.
For a single person, the income cap is HK$6,600 a month while the asset limit is HK$186,000. For a married couple, the income is capped at HK$10,520 a month and the asset at HK$281,000.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man cited latest figures showing that some 63 per cent, or 430,000 eligible elderly people, had used their vouchers as of 2010.
Ho Hei-wah, director of the rights group Society for Community Organisation, welcomed the government's moves.
But Professor Wong Hung, from Chinese University, said: 'Launching the new allowance is better than doing nothing. The elderly can benefit ... But the HK$2,200 allowance is insufficient to meet their basic spending. The government still has to work out long-term measures to improve the lives of the elderly [poor].'
Social welfare-sector lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che slammed the labour minister for calling the new allowance a long-term measure, saying the authorities needed to study more comprehensive retirement protection schemes for the elderly.
Meanwhile, the Preparatory Task Force on the Commission on Poverty, initiated by Leung, had its first meeting yesterday. Law Chi-kwong, a member, said they were inclined to combine their operations with that of the Community Care Fund.
But Law said the funds would not be transferred to the commission, which is expected to be officially set up in September or October.
The amount of extra spending, in HK dollars, each year under the government's plan to almost double the old age allowance