Fresh aid for the needy to be put to the test, Matthew Cheung says

Trial schemes are lined up for autumn after welfare funding clears filibuster hurdle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 5:22am

The coming autumn will see a range of pilot welfare schemes, including one encouraging people on welfare to work and save at the same time.

Carers of elderly family members would also get subsidies under the Community Care Fund, the secretary for labour and welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said.

The efforts reflected an open attitude adopted by the government in introducing innovative measures on social welfare, Cheung said.

He stressed, however, that it was unwise to sign cheques that would, in the long run, bankrupt the administration.

"We need to be responsive but we also need to be responsible," Cheung told the South China Morning Post.

"[This government] cannot make decisions that the next administration cannot afford."

Welfare funding initially hit a wall with filibustering on the budget in the Legislative Council, but things are now on track.

Cheung and his aides are preparing to roll out pilot schemes that he said were important in testing the feasibility and sustainability of plans, as well as in gauging the popularity and extent to which those ideas could meet needs.

The "savings account" scheme would allow able-bodied recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance to work without worrying that their jobs would jeopardise the monthly handouts. This would hopefully encourage more people to work, Cheung said.

Such people now face a disincentive to find jobs because the CSSA scheme reduces the handouts given to households earning more than HK$2,500.

In the trial programme, earnings above that income will go into a savings account, thus avoiding a deduction in the handouts.

When the savings accumulate to a level above the CSSA asset limits, the family will receive the money - and be able to leave the CSSA safety net.

In another scheme, carers of the elderly living at home are to get a much-anticipated subsidy disbursed from the Community Care Fund.

The allowance will tie in with a four-year voucher pilot scheme that begins in September. It allows elderly residents to pick the types of services they want.

The fund supports 19 projects that are aimed at helping people who fail to qualify for regular government welfare schemes.

If the pilot schemes proved to be popular and sustainable, the ultimate goal was to incorporate them into the government's regular list of services, Cheung said.

For instance, a popular programme that subsidises the severely disabled living at home will be made permanent from March.

Two other trials under the fund stood a good chance of becoming part of official, permanent and ongoing services, Cheung said.

The schemes subsidise low-income families living in substandard housing, such as cubicle units, and provide lunch money for children.