Poverty commission urges help for jobless

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am

A high-level panel set up to ease Hong Kong's worsening poverty yesterday completed its two-year study with a call for a 'one-stop shop' for job seekers and better co-ordination on existing services.

The Commission on Poverty also suggested relaxing the asset limit for elderly people applying for welfare and setting up a children's development fund to help needy youngsters.

The current asset limit for a single elderly applicant is HK$34,000.

But the panel stopped short of suggesting a time limit on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments, despite fears that an indefinite subsidy would discourage recipients from seeking work.

Releasing the 127-page final report, Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said the commission, which he chaired, had laid a good foundation for the next government to follow up.

'This report does not mark the end of the commission's work. It just signifies the beginning of the next stage of work,' he said in response to concerns the commission would be disbanded.

He said it would be up to the next administration, which takes office on July 1, to decide how to carry forward the recommendations.

Government figures show the numbers of those below the age of 59 living in households with income below average CSSA payments fell from 692,800 in 2005 to 618,600 last year. The number of elderly poor people remained unchanged at 204,000.

About 128,200 CSSA recipients are considered able to work, or 2.6 per cent of the population aged 15 to 59. Eighty-eight per cent of the recipients have been receiving welfare payments for more than a year.

Mr Tang said members agreed there was no need to draw a poverty line to identify who would need help.

The commission called for a 'one-stop shop' to help those with difficulties finding jobs look for work.

It said the future labour and welfare bureau should integrate various services provided by the Employees Training Board, Labour Department and Social Welfare Department to reduce service gaps and duplication.

Philemon Choi, chairman of the commission's taskforce on children and youth, said it was worrying that 247,800 children under 14 were still living in households with incomes below the average CSSA payment last year. He hoped the children's development fund would be able to help youngsters with needs in a more focused way.

Tik Chi-yuen, chairman of the commission's ad hoc group on the elderly in poverty, said the government should consider a more relaxed asset limit for elderly CSSA recipients.

Legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee, a commission member, and head of a Legislative Council sub-committee to combat poverty, called for an inter-departmental working group headed by the chief secretary to follow up the recommendations.

The subcommittee will discuss the report on Monday.

The body's future goals

Monitor poverty indicators, social mobility and the impact of public policies on poor families

Review training provision to make people more employable

Work on integrating training and employment assistance

Do more to promote social enterprises

Review travel subsidies for the low-paid and consider what incentives to offer people to take jobs

Review measures to foster child development

Consider allowing elderly people on welfare to hold more assets

Provide more jobs and facilities in poor areas