I am over 60 and work 10 hours a day, says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defending move to raise age limit for elderly welfare payments
- Raising threshold from 60 to 65 years is reasonable in view of improved life expectancy, Lam says
The move to raise the age threshold for elderly welfare payments from 60 to 65 is “nothing inhumane”, Hong Kong’s leader has said, pointing out she herself is over 60 years old and still working.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remarks on Tuesday came a day after the government announced the age limit for the elderly comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme would rise to 65 from February 1, a decision that was slammed by parties across the political divide.
“The adjustment has no purpose of saving money and is nothing inhumane. It is to reflect social circumstances,” Lam said. “If I said people aged 60 years old should not work or have lost touch with society, I don’t think you would accept that.
“I am over 60 years old but I still work for over 10 hours every day.”
Lam, 61, was speaking to media before her weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.
She said the adjustment was reasonable in view of the improved life expectancy of Hong Kong’s population and the global trend of extending the retirement age to 65, making the threshold on par with the transport fare concession scheme and health care voucher scheme for the elderly.
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“Basically no one is affected [by the adjustment] … people aged between 60 and 64 who have received elderly CSSA before February 1 this year will be completely unaffected,” Lam said.
She said those with disabilities or who were in ill health would not be affected as they were eligible for other categories under the CSSA scheme.
But lawmakers criticised the move they said would affect tens of thousands of people in the near future.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Leung Che-cheung, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, slammed the government for being inconsiderate to the elderly forced to quit jobs in private companies after turning 60.
“Some came down with a major illness and spent most of their savings. They need the CSSA payments,” he said.
Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, the representative of the social welfare sector, said at least three major associations of the industry were now drafting a statement to oppose the change.
“Only 44.4 per cent of the citizens aged 60 to 64 are working. The market is excluding the elderly,” Shiu said. “It is ridiculous if Lam meant the adjustment was merely to make it on par with other schemes. The threshold of one being regarded as an adult varies in different laws as well.”
He found it unbelievable Lam said the change was not to save the public money, suggesting the government had moved the goal posts following heavy criticism of a mega reclamation plan off Lantau Island that could cost HK$500 billion.
Tens of thousands of impoverished Hongkongers to lose out as government raises threshold for elderly welfare payments from 60 to 65
Under the new arrangement, those aged 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.
Lam said there were calls for the government to do more to encourage middle-aged citizens or the elderly to work, and she would ask the related department and bureau to study any measures needed on top of the current subsidies for employers hiring senior staff.
The government also announced on Monday 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.