Question marks over new welfare costs
The government will set no upper limit in funding a HK$2 fare scheme for the elderly but it has yet to tell taxpayers how much the new welfare policies announced on Thursday will cost them.
In the policy address by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the government proposed allowing residents aged 65 or above and some of the disabled to travel on general MTR lines, franchised buses and ferries at any time for a uniform fare of HK$2 a trip.
It also plans to allow local elderly people who live in Guangdong to receive the old age allowance, without the need to come back to Hong Kong as they are now required to do for at least 60 days.
The schemes are expected to be launched by the end of next year and 2013 respectively.
Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said yesterday it was hard to estimate how many would apply for the Guangdong scheme.
In a survey by the Census and Statistics Department earlier this year, 34,000 elderly people expressed an interest in moving to the mainland and some 90 per cent were likely to choose Guangdong, Cheung said.
Another 78,200 of the aged stayed both on the mainland and in Hong Kong during the year, down from 88,000 in 2007.
But the numbers do not include those who have lived for years on the mainland and do not have families in Hong Kong.
Tsang estimated that HK$100 million to HK$200 million would be needed a year for the HK$2 concessionary fare scheme.
Asked whether this underestimated the true figure, Cheung said the government would make sure operators continued concessionary schemes already in place for the elderly. The government would pay the difference between existing concessionary fares and the HK$2 fare.
'It's hard to come up with a figure about the actual amount we will need to pay,' Cheung said. 'We will have to discuss it with the operators [before getting an accurate number], but the amount should be one that the government can shoulder.'
Nelson Chow Wing-sun, chair professor for the University of Hong Kong's Department of Social Work and Social Administration, said up to 70,000 elderly locals lived in Guangdong. Assuming 50,000 of them applied for the monthly HK$1,000 allowance, it would cost the government HK$600 million a year.
Dr Chung Kim-wah, an assistant professor of applied social sciences at Polytechnic University, said those living in Guangdong might decide not to return to Hong Kong but costly medical services across the border were a big headache for them.
Meanwhile, 80 per cent of 669 people surveyed by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service agreed there was a big gap between rich and poor in the city, and 45 per cent said the policy address would have little or no effect on improving lives of the poor.