Protesters urge scrapping of tightened rules

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 December, 2003, 12:00am

Social welfare groups have called on the government to scrap a plan to tighten social welfare rules to exclude new migrants from CSSA payments from January 1.

Twelve groups, including social welfare agencies, religious group and academics, yesterday presented their views to Legco opposing the plan to require that CSSA applicants be permanent residents - meaning that they have resided in Hong Kong for at least seven years - saying it was unfair and discriminatory. Legco's welfare services panel was meeting yesterday to discuss the plan.

Children under 18 will be exempted from the new rule. The new eligibility criteria will also be applied to the old age allowance and disability allowance.

The change came after the release of the population policy report in February which highlighted the growing demands on social services in light of budget cuts.

However, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a lecturer from the Polytechnic University's Applied Social Sciences Department, said the plan might violate basic human rights.

'It is a basic service for survival and it should not be offered according to their residency status,' he said.

'All residents in Hong Kong are entitled to that and their rights are protected under the Basic Law.'

Dr Cheung said some of the concern groups were looking at the possibility of a legal challenge against the plan but there was no concrete proposal for that so far. Ho Hei-wah, the director of the Society for Community Organisation, yesterday said they would try to seek legal aid for a judicial review.

In a report on the CSSA system released yesterday, the Ombudsman called for wider publicity of the new rules so as to avoid 'unrealistic expectations' from one-way permit holders.

According to government figures, about 14.9 per cent of CSSA recipients were new arrivals at the end of 2002, compared to 12 per cent at the end of March 1999.