Old age allowance

DAB hints it could back means-tested new old-age allowance

Party still wants asset cap increased to HK$300,000, but it will ‘review’ proposal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 12:00pm

The government's hopes of Legco approving funding for its proposed old-age living allowance have received a boost.

The biggest Beijing loyalist party now appears to support the idea, having softened its stance ahead of Friday's finance committee vote on a request for HK$3.1 billion to fund it.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said it would review the proposal but still wanted the asset cap in the means test for the HK$2,200 monthly payout raised to HK$300,000 from HK$186,000.

The government stood firm on its plan to put the request to the committee on Friday despite the Legislative Council's welfare panel passing a motion calling for a delay at a special meeting yesterday.

DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung said the party, which has 12 votes, would discuss this week whether to vote in favour of the request on Friday or to abstain.

"Secretary [for Labour and Welfare] Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has suggested we vote to pass first and then they will hold a review a year later," Tam said. "If we insist on opposing [the plan], many elderly people probably won't be able to benefit immediately. In the past few days, we have received many opinions urging us to vote for it first."

The scheme aims to provide a monthly allowance of HK$2,200 for those aged 65 and above who are in need of support with assets of less than HK$186,000 and a monthly income below HK$6,660.

The DAB also opposed Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung's motion to delay the finance's committee scrutiny and to backdate the start of the allowance to October 1.

The government, despite widespread opposition, is also standing firm on the means test.

The current old-age allowance of HK$1,090 a month is means-tested for those aged 65 to 69 but payable to all over-70s.

Of the DAB's 13 lawmakers, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing will, as usual, be absent from the finance committee meeting. If the remaining 12 all vote in favour, the proposal has a better chance of being passed.

Twenty-three pan-democratic lawmakers have made it clear they oppose the existing proposal, instead demanding a universal retirement scheme.

The Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions also opposes it. "We definitely won't support the government's existing proposal," convenor Chan Yuen-han said. "No means test should be imposed on those aged 70 or above." The Liberal Party's acting chairman, Vincent Fang Kang, said its lawmakers would probably abstain.

Matthew Cheung defended the means test, saying that without it, costs would hit HK$35.1 billion by 2041 from an initial estimate of HK$16.2 billion.

The director of social welfare, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, said if lawmakers did not pass the plan this month, the government could not launch the scheme in March.