Old age allowance
Commonly known as "fruit money", the old age allowance is a monthly cash subsidy the Hong Kong government pays to senior citizens aged 65-69 with low incomes, and all elderly citizens aged 70 and over. The Leung Chun-ying administration in 2012 proposed to introduce a new means-tested subsidy called the Old Age Living Allowance, which provides HK$2,200 per month for the needy only.
Assets test for old-age cash will be adjusted for inflation, says minister
Eligibility limit will be adjusted for inflation, says minister as he seeks lawmakers' backing
Patsy Moy and Stuart Lau
Elderly people would be eligible to receive the government's proposed HK$2,200-a-month old age subsidy next year if their assets did not exceed an asset limit - set to surpass HK$190,000 because of inflation - the welfare minister said yesterday.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung appealed to lawmakers to approve the proposed subsidy, which would replace the current old age allowance of HK$1,090, to alleviate poverty among the elderly, when the Legislative Council's finance committee meets this month.
Cheung said approving the subsidy would allow at least 290,000 people aged 65 to 70 who have already passed a means test to receive the higher payment from March.
But Cheung's appeal failed to impress the Democratic Party and the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), which insisted that the means test be waived for everyone over 70 and that a universal pension scheme should be the way forward for Hong Kong.
Those aged 65 to 70 with assets not exceeding HK$186,000 are eligible for old age allowance, and the same limit, adjusted for inflation, would apply to the proposed HK$2,200 monthly subsidy.
On an RTHK radio programme, Cheung said the cap would be adjusted according to the social security assistance index - which reflects changes in prices. The cap rose this year to HK$186,000 from HK$177,000.
"The new subsidy will be treated like other welfare schemes in adopting the index, so we believe the asset limit … will rise to over HK$190,000 by February," he said.
Despite calls from major political parties to scrap the means test for those over 70, Cheung insisted it was necessary to ensure resources were used effectively for the needy.
"We should differentiate the new subsidy from fruit money. Fruit money is a token of appreciation for senior citizens, but the new subsidy is to help ease the poverty of some elderly people who are not on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance," Cheung said. Pan-democrats have threatened a veto if the means test is not dropped.