Poor elderly not on welfare may get rent and medical help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

Rent subsidies and medical discounts for poor elderly people outside the welfare net are being considered by a high-level commission.

Sources from the Commission on Poverty said measures were needed to help underprivileged elderly people too proud to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) or not quite poor enough to qualify for help.

According to government figures, about 100,000 elderly people live on their own in the city, and another 200,000 live only with their spouses. It is not known how many of them are so-called 'hidden' ones living in poverty.

Senior commission members and government officials have held preliminary talks about giving such elderly people living in public housing estates a rent discount, and providing rent allowances for those renting flats in private blocks who have passed a means test. They could also receive discounts on public hospital and clinic fees.

Elderly people on CSSA get free health services and have their rent paid.

The amounts of the allowances and discounts have not been discussed in detail, but a source said each proposal would cost the government between HK$100 million and HK$300 million a year.

The commission will continue its discussions on Tuesday.

'Officials are, so far, pretty positive about these ideas and want to study the proposals. But they are a bit worried that the measures could become a burden on recurrent expenditure,' the source said.

'One possible way to get around it is to set up a fund for such purposes and make the relevant costs a one-off capital expense.'

Some commission members also suggested the asset limit for elderly people's eligibility for CSSA payments be increased. But officials said that could lead to similar demands from other underprivileged groups, such as unemployed people and single parents.

Commission member Ho Hei-wah, who is also director of the Society for Community Organisation, said: 'It would be a very, very good year-end bonus for the elderly if these ideas come true.

'Many elderly people in Hong Kong do not want welfare because of their pride ... and because they would have to declare their children are not supporting them any more, which is difficult for them emotionally.'

Another commission member, Law Chi-kwong, a social work professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the proposed measures were effective, easy to implement and would not cost too much.

The new measures will be the third set of proposals put forward by the commission, chaired by Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. Earlier, the commission proposed a transport support scheme to help unemployed people living in remote areas look for jobs in urban areas, and a child development fund to help underprivileged children with their education.

'We have done something for the jobless and children. Now it is time for us to help the elderly,' the source said.