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Ageing society

Plan to change age limit for social welfare scheme unlikely to be stopped despite public backlash, says top adviser to Hong Kong’s leader

  • Elderly Commission chairman says he gets rationale behind CSSA policy move
  • But he suggests officials should study if the job market will be compatible with the change
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 10:52pm

A controversial change to the age limit of an elderly welfare payment scheme is unlikely to be stopped, but officials should study how it could be implemented better, a top-level adviser to Hong Kong’s leader has said.

Executive councillor Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission, also said on Sunday the move would help ease age discrimination in the workplace.

This came after the government announced last week that the lower age limit for applying for elderly comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) would be increased from 60 to 65.

Beginning on February 1, eligible residents aged 65 or above will receive between HK$3,375 and HK$6,095 per month in support payments, depending on health and family conditions.

“I agree with the rationale behind this administrative policy,” Lam Ching-choi said. “It is worth studying how it may be implemented better, and if the job market will be compatible with the change.”

The adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would not say if he was in favour of delaying the policy’s implementation.

“There is still a lot of room to discuss [the matter],” he said.

During a televised forum on Sunday, Lam Ching-choi said the government would listen to public opinion, but did not say if officials were willing to scrap the move altogether.

Following last week’s announcement, lawmakers from both sides of the political divide had called for the change to be suspended, including the Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who appeared at the same forum.

Carrie Lam ‘shocked’ as Hong Kong lawmakers criticise increase in age limit

Cheung said the government could still stop it happening, adding there had been a strong backlash against the policy.

“If the government presses ahead … it may also lose society’s support on other policies,” Cheung said.

The lawmaker said the government had not studied how many people aged 60-64 were fit to work. He also said the elderly may have to take up physically demanding jobs with long hours, such as being security guards.

Meanwhile, the Society for Community Organisation said it would support a 59-year-old who wants a judicial review of the policy change.

Cheung said there were grounds for launching the review, as the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution – said welfare benefits and retirement security should be protected by law.

“If a judicial review is filed, I hope that the government will suspend this measure until the judicial process is done, and conduct a public consultation,” Cheung said.

The society said the judicial review applicant would be applying for legal aid to fund the lawsuit.

Lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, chairman of the Legislative Council’s welfare services panel, said a special meeting would be held on January 28 to discuss the latest policy. He added that Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong had been invited.

The government had said the change to the CSSA scheme was in response to the city’s ageing population, as well as a growth in the number of people aged between 60 and 64 in the workforce.

Official figures indicate that 44.4 per cent of people aged between 60 and 64 are working.

Following the change, those aged 60-64 can still apply for non-elderly CSSA, which has lower payment amounts.