Rise in Old Age Allowance tipped

Martin Wong

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is expected to announce an increase in the Old Age Allowance for those aged 70 and over and provide more help to families following a rise in reports of domestic violence.

The allowance is paid monthly to about 450,000 people, 220,000 of whom are aged 70 and over. The latter will probably receive $1,000 instead of the current $705, but may have to pass a means test.

Nelson Chow Wing-sun, chair professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, said the money would be a huge relief to many elderly. 'They depend heavily on such allowances to live and are living miserably,' he said.

He said many elderly people refused to take other handouts for fear of being stigmatised. But they would apply for the Old Age Allowance, known as 'fruit money', because it was seen as a payment of respect by society.

Professor Chow said he expected Mr Tung to set up 13 family services centres, which would provide outreach services to victims of domestic violence and people affected by suicide in their families. He would also pour in more resources to address youth crime and drug abuse.

'In 1995, welfare spending was only half the spending on the health sector. But last year, it reached $30 billion,' Professor Chow said.

Rita Lam Yu-kiu, chairwoman of the Association for the Rights of the Elderly, said she would welcome the allowance initiative, which would cost the Government nearly $100 million a year. 'I hope the Government considers it a beginning instead of an end of improving elderly services,' she said.

Ms Lam said many elderly people would still live in poverty. The Government should improve services such as community and residential care, she said.

About 100 elderly people protested yesterday outside government headquarters in Central, demanding a rise in the Old Age Allowance and the lowering of the age of entitlement from 65 to 60.