Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Policy address: CY Leung abolishes controversial ‘bad son statement’ and announces means-tested pensions

In his final policy address the chief executive said revised plan for Old Age Living Allowance will benefit 500,000 senior residents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 12:02am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying surprised Hongkongers on Wednesday by scrapping the long-denounced “bad son statement” which had required children of elderly welfare applicants to declare they would not support their parents – a practice that has driven away eligible claimants.

The administration also ended a heated decade-long debate on pensions by introducing a means-tested scheme, claiming it would benefit 74 per cent of the city’s senior residents, alongside other allowances, even though the pension itself was not universal in nature.

“It is useful for us to take a comprehensive view on all the support measures that we have in place for the elderly and not just one of the pillars,” Leung said on Wednesday, adding he had never supported the universal pension scheme, even in his election campaign.

In his swansong policy address, Leung introduced a number of new measures on social welfare which would involve an extra annual recurrent expenditure of over HK$9 billion on average in the coming decade.

The most welcomed policy was the abolishment of the so-called “bad son statement”, a contentious practice which had remained since 1999 despite countless criticisms from advocacy groups.

Elderly applicants of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), in a few months time, will only need to declare they were not taken care of by their children, without having their family members need to make that black-and-white “inhuman” statement, which many were reluctant to sign.

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Leung, however, refused to launch a universal pension scheme despite an overwhelming 90 per cent of respondents to a public consultation saying they preferred it over a means-tested option.

Instead, the administration revised the Old Age Living Allowance – which entitled the city’s senior residents to HK$2,565 a month – with effect from next month – to a two-tier plan.

Under the new proposal, if approved by the Legislative Council, the asset limit of the allowance will be relaxed from HK$225,000 – also with effect from next month – to HK$329,000, which is expected to benefit 127,000 more elderly people.

The recipients whose assets totalled less than HK$144,000, around 365,900 people, would be eligible for a higher monthly allowance of HK$3,435.

The administration has sparked controversy by raising the eligible age for elderly CSSA from 60 to 65, though it at the same time lowered the eligible age for the Elderly Health Care Vouchers from 70 to 65, allowing 400,000 more senior residents to receive HK$2,000 per year to purchase private primary care services.

A government source dismissed that raising of eligible age for elderly CSSA was aimed to cut cost but to align with the direction of population policy.

“Those [aged 60 to 64] could still apply for CSSA and we also want to encourage these CSSA recipients to work,” he said.

The rate of CSSA for elderly person, from next month onwards, is HK$3,435, HK$1,105 more than the normal rate.

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But veteran social worker Ng Wai-tung of the Society for Community Organisation disagreed.

“[This additional sum of money] means a lot to these senior residents,” he said. “Many of them are still paying rents and could not find jobs for various reasons, such as age discrimination.”

Ng welcomed the revision of the Old Age Living Allowance, though he was disappointed that Leung ignored the public’s call to put forward a universal pension scheme.

Regretting the proposed plan, Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung also said: “I am worried that the issue of a universal pension would not be put on the table in the near future after the passage of this scheme.”

Meanwhile, the government also invited the Community Care Fund to launch two pilot schemes to provide transitional care to senior residents freshly discharged from public hospitals, so fewer of them would be sent straight to residential care centres.

The Guangdong plan, which has invited old people to reside in elderly homes run by Hong Kong NGOs in Shenzhen and Zhaoqing, has also been expanded to Fujian.

Differing fortunes for the elderly

Kwok Chi-yin, 85, is looking forward to heartier meals on his dinner plate, after the government pledged to hand out larger allowances for financially strapped elderly people.

But such daily improvements are still a far cry from what most of the elderly want – a universal retirement protection scheme without any means test.

Kwok, who receives HK$2,495 a month under the Old Age Living Allowance, welcomed the extra HK$940 he would get.

“I used to wait until the end of day to buy the leftover fruits and vegetables at the market, but now with some more money in my pocket I can eat better and afford more meat in a meal,” Kwok told the Post after watching the televised policy address live yesterday.

Despite having extra cash, Kwok said the handouts were not enough and hoped for a universal retirement protection scheme.

“We’re old and have many ailments – we go to the doctor’s once every few weeks and the money adds up,” Kwok, who suffers from prostate problems and high blood pressure, said. “We’ve worked so hard over the years, it’s about time the government repays us,” he added.

From February 1, more of the elderly are also expected to benefit from the welfare policy upgrade because the ceiling for eligibility will be raised from assets totalling HK$225,000 to HK$329,000 for singles who are 65 years old and above, and from HK$341,000 to HK$499,000 for elderly couples.

Mok Chi-keung, 82, was overjoyed to hear that she and her husband could finally qualify for the monetary aid.

“It’s better than nothing. At least all my savings won’t be used up,” she said, adding that she spent more than HK$40,000 on two eye surgeries last month.

Mok recalled the pressure of having to provide for both herself and her husband in the last decade, even taking on odd jobs like handing out leaflets.

“My husband is too old to work. I didn’t receive a single cent for living expenses from my children,” she said.

But even as about 500,000 elderly people are expected to benefit from the revised scheme, some are bound to miss out without a universal pension.

Leung Yuet-chiu, 82, who has more than HK$500,000 in savings, will not fall under the expanded welfare net.

“There should not be a means test for a retirement pension,” she said.

“I worked hard to save so much money so I wouldn’t have to ask my kids to support me if anything bad happens to me in the future.”