More families to qualify for transport subsidy scheme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am


More low-income families may benefit from government transport subsidies thanks to changes to the eligibility limits for applicants.

From next month, the income and asset limits of families will be increased by up to 15 per cent and up to 60 per cent respectively to make more households eligible.

Unionists, pan-democrats and concern groups say the government should expand the scheme's scope to include individuals.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung announced the revisions in the Legislative Council yesterday. He said they were made based on the latest income and economic data and in response to the demands of the public.

'We have listened sincerely to the calls from the public and have reacted to them,' Cheung said.

Under the scheme, a family of six or more with a combined monthly income of up to HK$18,000 and assets amounting to not more than HK$198,000 will be eligible. For a two-member family, the monthly income and asset levels are capped at HK$13,300 and HK$99,000.

The transport subsidy scheme started in October and provides up to HK$600 per month to each working person whose family passes a means test.

The policy was enacted following years of complaints from social welfare groups that residents in the suburbs were subjected to high transport costs as they commuted to work. Critics said such costs might make people less willing to work.

The authorities had expected some 400,000 people to benefit from the subsidies. But by February 13, only about 17,600 applications had been approved, prompting lawmakers to brand the scheme a failure.

Cheung described the adjustments as bold steps, considering the changes were made only four months after the scheme was introduced.

Concern groups at the Legco meeting said the policy failed to take into account an 'inconvenient truth' about grass-roots communities in Hong Kong: the asset means test might encourage workers not to save money.

At the same time, they said, excluding individuals from the scheme had contributed to the low application rate.

Wong Wing-chi, a representative of the Tin Shui Wai Development Alliance, a grass-roots concern group, said many young people would not want to reveal their incomes to family members because they treat what they earn as a private matter.

Law Pui-shan, policy research officer of the Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, said the requirement that a family's assets be assessed may put off people eligible to apply for the subsidy.

This view was echoed by Unionist Li Fung-ying, who said the government should consider expanding the scheme by getting rid of the asset means test.

During the meeting, League of Social Democrats legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung was expelled after he threw objects in the direction of Cheung. He accused the government of neglecting the public's needs.