Legco set to discuss increase in welfare payments, but many fear changes will not go far enough
Calls for greater support for recipients, as social workers say many are forced to skip meals due to the high cost of housing
Chor Ping-kay has been skipping breakfast for months and now he wonders when he is going to have to opt out of lunch too.
The 46-year-old man subsisting on welfare payments is paying HK$2,400 per month for a dilapidated squatter hut in Tuen Mun, and occasionally sees snakes and mice where he lives.
An unstable electricity supply has made cooking impossible, Chor claims, forcing him to eat at nearby restaurants where the cheapest dish still costs him HK$30. To complicate matters, he is unable to work because of chronic illness.
Chor is among the 49.3 per cent of the some 30,000 Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients living in private housing whose rent allowance does not cover their actual rent.
“I need to pay HK$600 out of basic allowance per month for rent,” he said. “The landlord is going to raise the rent again next year … perhaps in future living in public parks would be a more feasible option – at least I do not have to pay rent.”
The Legislative Council’s welfare panel on Monday was set to discuss the annual adjustment for the welfare payments. The CSSA standard payment rates and the maximum rates of the rent allowance were expected to increase by 1.2 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively. That means Chor, who is receiving a monthly rent allowance of HK$1,810 for a single person, would receive an extra HK$24 per month next February.
But social workers said the increase was far from enough as they called for a comprehensive review of the payment rates.
“One cannot even afford a subdivided flat in industrial buildings with the current rent allowance,” social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said.
“Many recipients are using their allowance for basic needs to pay their rent, with some skipping meals.”
The one-off payment, provided by a Community Care Fund programme to those who are paying a rent exceeding their rent allowance, remained insufficient to relieve the heavy financial burden of the poor, he said.
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The government should set a new rate of rent allowance, Shiu said, so at least 90 per cent of recipients staying in private housing do not need to pay rent out of their basic allowance.
Shiu, who is a lecturer on social work, also slammed the government’s decision to raise the eligible age for elderly CSSA from 60 to 65 as “rude”. The rate for elderly person was HK$3,435 – about HK$1,000 more than the normal rate.
While the officials had said the change was to align with the direction of population policy to encourage those aged 60 to 64 to work, Shiu said it was not as easy for some to find a job, especially those who suffer from chronic disease and ailments.
A group of social workers was drafting a proposal on how to revamp the welfare payment systems to be ready early next year, he added.