Ageing society

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam blames CY Leung’s administration for controversial elderly welfare cutback

  • Chief executive says increase in age limit for elderly CSSA payments originated from 2017 policy address
  • It would be irresponsible for lawmakers to vote down next budget over issue, she adds
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 11:28pm

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attempted to deflect the blame for a controversial cutback on elderly welfare payments on Tuesday, pointing the finger at the previous government of Leung Chun-ying.

The chief executive also said lawmakers would be acting irresponsibly if they voted down the government’s budget over the issue, which has sparked an outcry from across the political spectrum.

“At the end of the day, the community will be hurt if there isn’t a budget to support the various activities and services of the government departments,” she said.

The government announced last Monday that the eligibility age for elderly comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) would be increased from 60 to 65 from February 1.

The move drew a heavy backlash from lawmakers, with pan-democrats seeking to vote down the incoming budget plan with the help of pro-government legislators.

Speaking before meeting her advisers from the Executive Council on Tuesday morning, Lam noted that the change was part of the last policy blueprint published by her predecessor, Leung.

“This policy had originated from the 2017 policy address,” she said.

Lawmakers united against ‘heartless’ decision to raise age threshold for elderly welfare payments

She explained that the change to the CSSA for the elderly was among other policies aimed at strengthening retirement protection and prolonging residents’ working lives.

Other measures included increasing the payment amount and asset limits of the Old Age Living Allowance and providing more career assistance to the elderly.

“Let me reiterate, the current administration cares about the elderly,” Lam said, adding that about 20 per cent of government expenditure – or HK$86 billion (US$11 billion) – was spent on elderly welfare.

Although the age limit for who was considered “elderly” would be changed for the CSSA scheme, the chief executive said other government policies on welfare and housing would not be affected.

Lam added she was merely being factual when she said last week that it was the lawmakers who had approved the change.

“If individual members felt uncomfortable with that sort of straight talk, then I will be more diplomatic in future. But I still need to talk about the facts because nobody could change the facts,” she said.

Protesters decry plan to raise CSSA elderly payment threshold to 65

If Lam thinks the previous government’s decision is flawed, it is up to her to improve it or decide when to implement it
Shiu Ka-chun, welfare sector lawmaker

In response to the pan-democrats’ plan to vote down the next budget in the Legislative Council, Lam said it was unreasonable for lawmakers to make up their minds without seeing the contents of the spending plan.

“I don’t think it is a very responsible way of dealing with Legco business,” she said.

With only 25 members in Legco, the pro-democracy camp does not have the numbers to carry out the threat on its own.

Yet, the largest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) said on Tuesday it would back pan-democrat Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung’s amendments to a motion demanding the government shelve the age threshold change.

The pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions said it still needs more time to discuss it but the DAB’s intention meant that the non-binding motion would have a high chance of being passed, putting the government under greater pressure.

The motion is to be raised on Wednesday by welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, who called for the government to review the entire CSSA system.

Lam ‘shocked’ by lawmakers’ criticism of change in elderly welfare scheme

Shiu said Lam should explain her role during the previous administration in relation to the change to elderly CSSA. Lam served as chief secretary, Leung’s second in command, during his term as chief executive.

“If Lam thinks the previous government’s decision is flawed, it is up to her to improve it or decide when to implement it,” Shiu said.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po is set to unveil his second budget plan at Legco next month.

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung