Government agrees more should be done to help needy elderly

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 5:22pm

I refer to the letter by John Wilson ("Elderly living in poverty need help", May 14). Let me stress that alleviation of elderly poverty ranks highly on the current-term government's policy agenda.

To promptly fulfil the chief executive's election manifesto, we rolled out the Old Age Living Allowance in April 2013. The allowance, currently at HK$2,285 per month (increasing to HK$2,390 with retrospective effect from February 1, 2015 once the Appropriation Bill 2015 is passed by the Legislative Council), is designed to supplement the living expenses of elderly people who are in need of financial support but may not be eligible for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.

Almost 420,000 senior citizens, or about 40 per cent of our elderly population, benefit from this allowance, which has proved effective in easing elderly poverty.

To promote active ageing, we have extended the highly popular Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities (commonly known as the "HK$2 fare subsidy") to more modes of transport. We have also doubled the amount of the elderly health-care voucher to HK$2,000.

About 74 per cent of our elderly aged 65 or above are receiving social security payments of one form or another. Total estimated expenditure on social security payments for the elderly in 2014-15 stood at HK$26 billion, representing 8 per cent of the government's total expenditure in that year.

Putting together social security payments, community and residential care and health-care services for the elderly, total estimated recurrent spending will reach HK$62 billion in 2015-16, accounting for a significant 19.1 per cent of the government's total recurrent expenditure in that year.

Notwithstanding this, we are mindful that we should do more to help our needy elderly.

In line with the multi-pillar model advocated by the World Bank, our retirement protection system comprises four complementary core pillars, namely, the non-contributory social security system; the Mandatory Provident Fund system; non-financial assistance including access to informal support and other government programmes; as well as voluntary private savings.

The government agrees that retirement protection for our needy citizens should be improved. The Commission on Poverty is fleshing out the framework and details for a public consultation on the way forward for Hong Kong's retirement protection to be launched by the end of this year. To underline our determination and commitment, we have earmarked HK$50 billion to prepare for future needs.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, secretary for labour and welfare