Marginal changes 'mislead elderly'

MARGINAL improvements in services for the elderly had been proposed only to mislead the public, groups representing the elderly said yesterday.

The aged also expressed disappointment the Government had not increased their monthly allowance.

The chairman of the Association for the Rights of the Elderly, Kwok Lit-tung, said the address made 'no breakthrough' on elderly issues.

While Mr Patten had raised the welfare allowance for the elderly in 1992 and came up with proposals for the old age pension last year, there was nothing exciting this year.

'This year, the Governor presented a variety of improvement on services for the elderly but they're just marginal improvements,' he said. 'This is rather misleading to the public who might think he'd done a lot.' Critics noted that 80 per cent of the recommendations by a government-commissioned working group studying elderly services had not been adopted.

Mr Patten said the Government was spending $6.8 billion on elderly services this year and would continue to implement the key targets in the 1991 White Paper 'Social Welfare into the 1990s and Beyond'.

He promised 12 specific initiatives to improve services for the elderly based on the recommendations of the Working Group on Care for the Elderly.

But group member Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun said 71 recommendations had been put forward.

'Most of the recommendations concern present policies, but personally I believe there are 20 to 30 of them which involve new areas and could have been accepted,' he said.

The Governor pledged to establish a $200 million elderly services development fund to finance non-governmental organisations to implement welfare projects.

To improve standards of safety and care for 17,600 old people in private centres, the Government will offer money to help them comply with new safety requirements and to train an extra 400 health workers.

Professor Nelson Chow, of the University of Hong Kong's Department of Social Work and Social Administration, said the working group proposed to spend $45 million to improve the standards of private centres for the elderly.

Other pledges include a new elderly services division in the Health and Welfare Branch and a central unit to monitor the assessment of applicants on the central waiting list for residential care and to find suitable places for them.

Professor Chow said: 'It's an improvement. But in the long term, it's not a solution.

'It puts great emphasis on an improvement in services and just follows what we have been doing all the time. It's not a new direction.' Commenting on the $200 million fund, he said: 'It's just a one-off grant up to 1997. It's not too much when it is divided over three years.' The Government was criticised for not increasing the elderly's welfare pay.

Chairman of the Elderly Rights League, Lam Pui-shan, 74, said: 'The present public assistance we receive fails to cover the high standard of living.' An elderly person receives about $1,600 a month and can apply for allowances for disability, rent, and medical expenses.