If not for public anger over the phased-in civil service pay-cut deal announced on Friday, the long-awaited decision to cut welfare benefits would have been largely accepted by the community. Bombarded with warnings of a huge deficit and a runaway increase in the number of welfare recipients, most people have shared the sense of urgency to contain social security spending. More importantly, a sharp fall in wages over the past few years has resulted in a welfare anomaly. Not surprisingly, many workers are angry that some welfare recipients get more than they do. Thanks to publicity about abuses of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, public sympathy for welfare recipients is drying up. Citing the system of raising payments with inflation, the government has justified cuts in line with deflation since 1998. But with the elderly and handicapped people making up more than two-thirds of welfare cases, the decision to cut payments by 11.1 per cent is bound to stir emotions. No matter how convincing the government's argument that the basic living standards of recipients will not be hit, it will face accusations of being uncaring. The impact will be more psychological than substantial. The government's plan to adjust the rates and promote self-reliance is primarily aimed at easing unabated growth in welfare expenditure. In the long run, the government will have to seek community consensus on how to provide elderly people with 'a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a sense of worthiness'. And in the face of rapid economic restructuring, it will face a more severe challenge of providing opportunities for able-bodied people to stand on their own feet.