Policy on disabled 'wrecks homes'
Jennifer Cheng and Mimi Lau in Guangzhou
Two groups of Hongkongers with long-standing grievances gave radically different reactions to Wednesday's policy address, which dealt with one issue - pensioners living in Guangdong - but not the other - at-home care for the disabled.
Some severely disabled people are unimpressed by a scheme to provide day-time training services for tetraplegic patients; begun as a pilot scheme in 2008, it is being made permanent. Many had hoped for a programme to support those who need 24-hour help at home. Since March this year there has been a round-the-clock scheme that benefits around 540 people, but they must be in line for institutional care to qualify.
Former social welfare sector legislator Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said: 'This service does not address a real need. The day training service is only from 9am to 6pm, so it cannot completely help those who need 24-hour assistance.'
Mr Wong, 43, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and lost the use of his limbs in 2007. Now wheelchair-bound, his throat muscles are also degenerating slowly, making it hard for him to speak and swallow.
He may soon need a tracheotomy, an operation to open a breathing hole in his windpipe. At that stage, Wong will have to rent or purchase a ventilator and hire caregivers for 24-hour attention. He is above the household income and asset ceiling for welfare as he lives with his elderly father and younger brother, who works. He would qualify for social security if he moved out on his own, but he does not consider that an option.
'I want to spend the time that I have with my family,' he said.
Cheung called the government a 'homewrecker', because severely disabled people who live with their families can only qualify for social security by moving out and living alone, or if every household member quits their job. He suggested that the severely disabled should be assessed for social security on an individual basis, not as part of a household.
A spokeswoman from the Social Welfare Department said the household assessment 'encourages family members to support each other and prevents avoidance of the duty to care by resorting to CSSA.'
Happier with the address were pensioners living across the border, who may now collect their Hong Kong pensions after retiring to live in Guangdong.
Li Cherk-chiu, 82, is one of the 100,000-plus Hong Kong elderly who have retired in Guangdong for the cheaper cost of living. They get by on about 4,000 yuan (HK$4,900) a month. 'We've waited for more than a decade for the allowance money to finally come through,' he said. 'We are a neglected bunch, and we are entitled to this after contributing to Hong Kong with a lifetime of effort.'
Chan Wai taught in Hong Kong primary schools for nearly three decades. In 1992 he chose to retire early to Zengcheng. 'The relaxed old age allowance is like a long overdue spring for us,' he said.