Welfare payments could be cut, official warns lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2007, 12:00am

Welfare payments could be trimmed, a senior welfare official warned yesterday, as authorities rejected demands to increase payments.

Cheung Doi-ching, principal assistant secretary for labour and welfare, said at yesterday's welfare services panel meeting that there was no need to increase welfare payments, and that some grants could be cut.

'There is room for special grants to move downwards,' Mr Cheung said. He said officials felt welfare payments covered people's basic needs.

Social workers and legislators at the meeting were shocked by his comment on cutting grants.

Lawmakers passed a non-binding motion requesting the government to restore welfare payments to 1999 levels.

Mr Cheung declined to explain how special allowances were calculated, despite repeated requests during the meeting.

Social workers said inflation had caused hardship for welfare recipients and there was no leeway to cut payments.

Au Yeung Tat-chor, a community organiser with Concerning CSSA Review Alliance, said Mr Cheung's comment was a threat. 'He was threatening us not to request too much because they could reduce it,' Mr Au Yeung said. 'We are very angry. They have ignored welfare recipients' as prices go up.'

Sze Lai-shan, an official with the Society for Community Organisation, agreed. 'It's ridiculous and crazy,' she said. 'Rents, for example, have increased by more than 10 per cent over the past year. But the CSSA rental allowance is just HK$1,260. How can it be further reduced?'

A Labour and Welfare bureau spokeswoman later said Mr Cheung had been referring to school-related allowances.

She said Mr Cheung based his comment on the consumer price index, which he said showed that the allowance could be cut by 2.1 per cent. But the spokeswoman said detailed figures on the relevant consumer price index components were not available.

But Ms Sze questioned Mr Cheung's claim, citing studies that showed the cost of uniforms and textbooks had increased 5 to 10 per cent this year.