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.
Elderly allowance is welcome help for some, but others are not so lucky
Recipients of the elderly allowance intend to use it for medical bills which are growing
Residents who are eligible for the new elderly allowance are delighted to get some help to cope with the higher cost of living, but others with just a little too much money in the bank are not happy with the government's stringent means test.
For Chou Shui, 88, the new HK$2,200 handout is double the original HK$1,090 in "fruit money" he has been receiving. Chou will use it to pay the medical bills of his wife, 77, who has been bedridden since a stroke three years ago, he says
"My wife cannot walk properly. It costs us HK$5,000 to HK$6,000 to get an injection in [Guangdong's] Foshan ," he said. "She has told me to take her to Foshan to get the injection after receiving the new handout."
The couple depends on HK$2,000 given by his younger son each month, while the fruit money goes towards his wife's treatment. A HK$25 shirt or a HK$70 meal to celebrate the Lunar New Year would be deemed expensive.
With the extra money, Chou hopes they can shoulder the increasingly hefty medical bills.
But Leung Wei-chun, 80, who also spends most of her money on medical treatment, has failed the means test. Her savings exceeded the HK$193,000 assets cap by a little, she said.
"You've got to understand us old folks; we're used to being frugal," Leung said. "I can't just use up that money quickly just so I can get [the allowance]."
She is against the current means test, saying the allowance should be distributed according to age instead.
"I don't understand why it needs to be so stringent. Why can't we have just a bit of cushion, so we can use it in case of an emergency?" asked Leung, who is not getting fruit money either.
Leung said she was used to being left out and feeling forgotten. She was widowed 40 years ago, has no children, and could not even find someone to accompany her to hospital.
Most of her HK$1,400 handicap subsidy goes to her doctor's visits - including paying for someone to visit the hospital with her. Such a trip costs her HK$500 and six hours.
"If I could get an elderly allowance, it'd be poured into my medical needs anyway.
"I guess it doesn't matter any more," Leung said.
She wished the medical system would cater more to the needs of single elderly people, she said.
Leung has just been allotted space in a government care home after more than three years in the queue.
However, she said a care home represented her "last resort", as she would rather live in the community if she could take care of herself.