Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government would "inevitably" foot a bigger bill for welfare payments after the top court last week dismissed a seven-year residency requirement that had excluded new immigrants from social welfare benefits.
"After the verdict was handed down … I immediately asked my colleagues to do assessments, especially [on] the possible impact in the long run," Tsang wrote on his official blog yesterday.
The Court of Final Appeal ruled that the requirement for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance applicants to have lived in Hong Kong for seven years was unconstitutional.
"Unlike other items of public expenditure … say, funding to [the] Hospital Authority or schools, which would have an upper cap or need to be prioritised given the limited resources, CSSA is a basic welfare," he wrote.
"Therefore, after the ruling … our spending on social welfare will inevitably see an increase.
"When I work out the budget for next fiscal year, there will also be a need to make adjustments."
Welfare has always been among the major outlays of public resources. In the 2013-14 budget, spending on social welfare was set at HK$61.2 billion, more than one-fifth of recurrent government expenditure.
Meanwhile, Liberal Party youth committee chairman Lee Tsz-king yesterday came under fire from fellow panellists on an RTHK public affairs programme.
"It is legal, but it is not reasonable," Lee said of the court's ruling on the seven-year requirement. "The Liberal Party, as a right-wing party, opposes new arrivals enjoying any social welfare such as the CSSA. Why should we give the new arrivals money when they have not contributed to Hong Kong?"
Panellist Eric Cheung Tat-ming, senior lecturer in law at the University of Hong Kong, said many Hongkongers had not worked before receiving CSSA. HKU associate professor of social work Law Chi-kwong said the remarks showed the Liberals were an "extreme right-wing" party.