Tens of thousands of impoverished Hongkongers to lose out as government raises threshold for elderly welfare payments from 60 to 65
- The age to be eligible for the comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme will rise on February 1
- Critics of the change say it will deprive many needy citizens aged 60 to 64 of much-needed support
Impoverished Hongkongers between 60 and 64 years old will receive close to a third less in government subsidies from next month as officials on Monday provided details of a move to raise the lower age limit for a financial support scheme.
The government announced in a press release that the age threshold for the elderly comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme would rise to 65 from February 1, up from the current 60.
The CSSA scheme provides a safety net and is intended to help meet basic needs.
Officials announced plans to raise the age limit back in January 2017, in view of the improved life expectancy of Hongkongers and the trend of extending the retirement age to 65.
A government spokesman explained on Monday there would not be a retroactive adjustment. “Persons aged between 60 and 64 who have received elderly CSSA before February 1 this year will be grandfathered and not be affected,” he said.
The spokesman added that CSSA payments to people with disabilities or in ill health would not be affected and they would, regardless of age, continue to receive payments higher than those for able-bodied adults.
But Roy Kwong Chun-yu, the chairman of the Legislative Council’s panel of welfare services, criticised the move, which would affect tens of thousands of people in the near future.
Under the new arrangement, those from 60 to 64 will only be able to get adult rates for CSSA payments. Currently, those over 60 can get the elderly rate, which is HK$3,485 (US$445) a month for an able-bodied person who is single. This compares with HK$2,455 a month for an able-bodied adult under the age of 60 and is single.
“Many have left the workplace after they turned 60 due to age or health problems,” he said.
“But besides the elderly CSSA, other elderly welfare measures are for those 65 and above, leaving a gap in support for those aged 60 to 64.”
Kwong said that there were currently around 144,000 people getting the elderly CSSA. Among them, the number between 60 and 64 years old is about 25,000.
He added that only around HK$100 million a year was needed to maintain the existing arrangement.
Kwong said the welfare services panel would call a meeting for the government to explain welfare support for those between 60 and 64.
The government also announced on Monday that the standard payment rates under the CSSA scheme and the rates of old age allowance, old age living allowance and disability allowance would be increased by 2.8 per cent from February 1.
The old age allowance is for all Hongkongers aged 70 or above while the old age living allowance is for those 65 or above with income and assets caps.
An additional HK$1.25 billion per year would be incurred for the adjustment, benefiting some 1.26 million recipients, the spokesman said.
He added the maximum rent allowance under the CSSA scheme would also be adjusted upwards by 2.7 per cent on the same date.