Social concern groups are calling on the government to take action to help elderly people living in extreme poverty who resort to scavenging on the streets because they are too proud to claim welfare handouts. They want the benefit payments renamed and a new queuing system introduced to encourage old people in need to claim without fear of being stigmatised. A Hong Kong University professor estimates at least 150,000 elderly people are living almost entirely off Old Age Allowance payments of $705 a month rather than claim Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). Separately, the Society for Community Organisation estimates almost 500,000 people live on less than $2,000 a month. Frontline social worker Gary Sham Chi-wing explained that many elderly people refused to resort to CSSA despite their hardship because they believed their dignity would be undermined. The society's director, Ho Hei-wah, accused the government of stirring up public antipathy towards CSSA recipients, which he said discouraged many elderly people from coming forward to claim welfare. 'The government is naive if it assumes that all young people nowadays are willing to take care of their elderly parents. Even if some young people are willing to do so, many of them may be out of jobs by now and cannot shoulder the responsibility of looking after elderly parents,' he said. Many elderly people resort to collecting boxes and tin cans and selling them to recyclers to seek out a living - working 18 hours a day, seven days a week for a daily income of no more than $40. Many elderly people are homeless and have to resort to scavenging on the streets of areas such as Wan Chai, Western district, Shumshuipo and Yau Ma Tei, according to Mr Ho. Social work and administration professor Iris Chi, from the University of Hong Kong, said it was 'totally unacceptable' to allow elderly people who had helped to build Hong Kong lead such miserable lives. 'Twenty years ago, we saw some elderly people picking unwanted things from the street for resale and eating the leftover collected from trash bins. It is so upsetting that we keep seeing the same picture nowadays. 'We will probably see more elderly people suffer if the government does not come up with a comprehensive policy for the elderly and face up to the problem of the ageing population in Hong Kong,' Professor Chi said. She estimated that at least one-third of the 456,000 Old Age Allowance (OAA) recipients, or 152,000 people, did not receive support from their families and lived in hardship. She said they tended to opt for OAA which offered less than one third of the $2,555 a month of the CSSA but which carried less of a stigma in their view. Anyone over 70 is entitled to an OAA payment of $705 a month, while those between 65 and 69 are subject to a means test to receive $625 a month. Professor Chi said officially separating elderly claimants from dole recipients would help remove the stigma and encourage more to apply for CSSA. She suggested setting up a new queue for the aged and renaming the payment scheme. A source close to the government said officials were aware of the issue but hesitated to take action for fear it would encourage more CSSA applicants and increase government spending, thereby expanding the budget deficit. A statement from the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau read: 'The government is aware that there are some elderly people who mainly rely on the Old Age Allowance for their living, and who do not receive CSSA. 'We have undertaken to review existing security arrangements for elderly people with a view to developing a sustainable financial support system that better targets assistance at needy elders, and which takes account of the ageing population and our low and simple tax system. 'In view of the complexity of the issues involved, it will take some time before the review can be completed.'