Carrie Lam

Hong Kong government wrong to cut elderly welfare

  • The qualifying age for the old-age benefit is being raised to 65, meaning those aged between 60 and 64 will receive close to a third less in financial support
  • This is a bad welfare policy and should be reversed
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 10:20pm

Our government doesn’t want to be popular. It’s being rounded on from all sides for effectively cutting an old-age benefit that it can well afford, a reduction that will make little difference to its overall welfare spending.

To be fair, it’s raising regular payments for a whole range of social welfare – including allowances for old age, disability, transport and rent – as well as the minimum wage. But it won’t be earning any praise.

Instead, it’s being condemned for a new plan, under which those aged between 60 and 64 will receive close to a third less in financial support as the government raises the qualifying age to 65.

Low-income Hongkongers lose out as elderly welfare threshold raised to 65

As a result, new recipients will receive HK$2,455 per month, instead of HK$3,485. The benefit will remain unchanged for current recipients.

The move is bad for public relations and it is bad welfare policy. The news media is full of images of hunchbacked elderly collecting cardboard and garbage to make ends meet. Even the government’s own statistics show that the city’s poverty situation, as defined by the poverty line, is skewed by the elderly poor.

There are only about 25,000 recipients who fall within the 60-64 age category, a service that costs about HK$1 billion a year. The total social welfare spending in this year’s budget? HK$92.2 billion, the government’s second largest expenditure item, after only education (HK$113.7 billion)!

Remarkably, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the reduction is “nothing inhumane”, as the cut is made because people are living and working longer, and retiring later. Doesn’t this just mean people can’t afford to retire?

As if completely tone-deaf, she said: “I am over 60 years old but I still work for over 10 hours every day.”

You can’t say Lam doesn’t understand welfare policy; rather, she understands it all too well. As the government’s welfare director, she helped tighten welfare payments during the early 2000s as part of an austerity drive imposed by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

But we are now the opposite of austerity. The public coffers are overflowing. Thanks to its bumper HK$138 billion surplus, the government is handing out HK$4,000 to 2.8 million people. The total cost of the handout is enough to fund those currently in the 60-64 age range for 11 years.

For everyone’s sake, the government should reinstate the previous age limit.