Funding for social services may be cut a further 2pc

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:00am

Proposed reduction is being considered as part of plan to ease the budget deficit

Social welfare groups probably face a 2 per cent cut in funding next year to help ease the budget deficit.

The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau is among several government offices to have received letters outlining their budgets for 2005-06 from Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen.

The Fight for Social Services Alliance said it had learned that the Social Welfare Department would push through a 2 per cent cut to help achieve an overall 11 per cent reduction in government spending by 2008-09.

The alliance will meet tomorrow to discuss how it will oppose the cut. The group said it would initially produce a list of services that would be cut to highlight the consequences.

Social welfare director Paul Tang Kwok-wai yesterday declined to comment, but confirmed a 2 per cent cut was being considered.

'The budget has not yet been finalised. A 2 per cent cut is a possibility. We are looking into the situation,' he said.

The Social Welfare Department receives $30 billion a year in government funding, including about $10 billion for groups providing social services. The rest is for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. The social services sector has already had its budget cut by $350 million, or about 5 per cent, since 2000, before a further reduction of 1.8 per cent, or $120 million, last year.

The alliance said combined with cuts from 1997 to 2000 and the proposed reduction for next year, the overall decline in funding amounted to more than 30 per cent.

'It's not that we are unwilling to shoulder part of the burden,' alliance convenor Cheung Kwok-chu said.

'We can cope with a reduction of about 0.2 or 0.3 per cent at most by cutting back on youth-related work in districts where the average age is rising, and services in which there has been a drop in demand due to declining birth rates. But the proposed cut is almost 10 times higher and we have never been properly consulted.'

Mr Cheung said six social workers were now doing the work of 10 people.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who represents the welfare sector, said he would today urge welfare minister York Chow Yat-ngok to drop the cut.