Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Bigger allowance on cards for Hong Kong’s elderly, but no universal pension

About 300,000 would receive an extra HK$905 a month in proposal to be floated in policy address

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 8:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 8:32am

About 300,000 elderly people are expected to benefit from a revised pension scheme to be floated in the policy address this month after years of heated debate, the Post has learnt.

Of the 1.17 million Hongkongers aged 65 or above, 37 per cent – more than 432,000 – had applied for the Old Age Living Allowance, which entitled them to HK$2,495 a month.

Under the new proposal, recipients whose assets totalled less than HK$140,000 would be eligible for about HK$3,400 – an extra HK$905.

Hong Kong government likely to opt for means-tested pension scheme

The government would also raise the asset limit from HK$219,000 to around HK$300,000 to benefit more people in financial need.

But the plan flies in the face of the results of a public consultation exercise in which people were asked to choose between two options: a universal scheme in which every elderly person received HK$3,000 a month; and a means-tested scheme where only those with assets of less than HK$80,000 would get such an allowance.

An overwhelming 90 per cent of respondents said they opted for the former.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung earlier caused a storm by questioning whether submissions could have been orchestrated to create an “illusion” of public support.

A source familiar with the matter described the proposal as a two-tier plan to improve the Old Age Living Allowance, which was introduced in 2013.

“It is not a brand new [social protection] scheme. The government just hopes to achieve more under the allowance,” the source said.

“The policy would not need to go through yet another round of public consultation and the administration would lodge a funding application to the legislature’s Finance Committee as soon as possible.”

Hong Kong is no city for old folk, and an uncaring government is to blame

Retired professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, an expert on pensions, said the proposal would be a “very big concession” by the government, which he believed might want to accommodate public demands for a universal pension while insisting on its own philosophy that there must be screening.

Chow believed Hong Kong would have to launch a universal pension eventually but that the latest proposal would cover the majority of elderly.

“I think these elderly will accept the new plan,” Chow said. “This will improve their life quite a lot.”

But Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung dismissed the proposal as “very mean” and unable to provide retirees with a sense of security.

“You can barely buy a columbarium space with HK$140,000,” he said.

Cheung said Hong Kong had enough financial clout to introduce a universal pension.

Tse Chin-pang, 73, said he was disappointed by the proposal and would only accept a universal pension.

“Universal pension is our right, not welfare,” Tse said. “[The HK$140,000 asset limit] cannot benefit most elderly. If you have cancer, [this amount of money] will be gone in a second.”

Tse felt the proposed scheme was no different to the current one.