SCMP, November 26, 2002 By Quinton Chan NEARLY ONE IN four unemployed people in Hong Kong could be receiving the dole by 2004, the government has forecast, as it considers ways of reining in the spiralling welfare budget. Measures aimed at encouraging recipients to find jobs, such as increasing the amount of community work they are required to undertake, are in the pipeline. The concern about rising welfare costs is regarded as a matter of particular concern at a time when the government faces a budget deficit of at least $60 billion. A senior government source said in the worst-case scenario more than 60,000 jobless people would be paid under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme in the next 12 to 18 months if the jobless rate remained stable at about seven per cent, with about 250,000 people out of work. The number of jobless people receiving welfare payments has increased by 48 per cent in the past 12 months, from 26,941 last October to 39,742 last month. The official said the rising trend would continue, even though the jobless rate has dropped from the peak of 7.8 to 7.2 per cent in the past three months. 'In 1997, about a quarter of the jobless people were receiving the dole. That situation could happen again very soon,' the source said. It is understood that the government will soon announce a series of measures to encourage jobless welfare recipients to return to the workforce. The source said it is now planning to increase the amount of community work jobless people are required to perform, currently standing at two half-day sessions every week. The authorities are now trying to double the number of community jobs available to unemployed CSSA recipients from 3,000 to 6,000. 'The idea is that they have to work more the longer they stay in the safety net. They may have to work one day a week at the beginning but four days after a year,' a source said. 'This is not discrimination of any kind against the jobless. This is to develop their work habit.' In addition, the authorities are planning to increase the amount of money people are allowed to earn in wages while still being permitted to claim welfare payments. It is intended that this will encourage dole recipients to find jobs. But the official said the government would proceed with a plan to slash welfare payments by up to 11.1 per cent, in line with deflation, in the next couple of months. The government has estimated that the CSSA budget will increase from $16 billion this financial year to $18 billion next year if nothing is done. 'This [the cut] will only contain the problem [of a huge welfare payment budget] for about 12 to 18 months,' the source said. 'And if we fail to do this, then the rest of the government has to cut another one per cent of current expenditure.' Glossary dole (n) benefit paid by the state to the unemployed rein (v) to keep under control in the pipeline (phrase) in the process of being developed safety net (n) originally, this was a net used to catch someone falling or jumping from a height, for example, an acrobat in a circus. In this context, it means a safeguard against possible hardship or adversity. The CSSA is an example of a financial safety net in Hong Kong as it helps the jobless, elderly, disabled and single parents. slash (v) to reduce drastically Discussion points ? Who is eligible to receive assistance from the current CSSA scheme? ? Do you agree that it is discriminatory to ask only the unemployed to do more community work if they want to qualify for CSSA? Why? ? Do you agree that the amount of CSSA should be reduced? Why? ? Who funds the CSSA scheme in Hong Kong? ? What does 'welfare state' mean? Do you think Hong Kong can run as a 'welfare state'?