Hong Kong NGO calls for government to reverse increase in age requirement for elderly social welfare payments

Residents and Legco members from both sides of the political spectrum protested in person outside government headquarters on Wednesday

Wong Tsui-kai |

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Lawmakers joined a protest yesterday against cutting welfare benefits.

The Society for Community Organisation (SoCo) has urged the government to retract the change in the age requirements for elderly welfare payments.

Starting February 1, the age limit for applying for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) will be raised from 60 to 65. Those aged between 60 and 64 will receive about a third less under the new proposal.

More than a dozen Legislative Council members joined around 80 people outside government headquarters Wednesday morning to protest against the move. Both pro-establishment and opposition lawmakers took part in the protest.

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But SoCo Community Organiser Ng Wai-tung was unimpressed, saying Legco still lacked unity. “There is no concrete action from the pro-establishment. Those objections are toothless,” he said. “There is no cooperation, maybe because of political concerns. If the major parties jointly pressure the government, they would respond.”

Ng acknowledged that raising the retirement age is a worldwide trend, but points out that – unlike Hong Kong – many countries have pension and retirement schemes.

Earlier this week, convenor of the pro-democracy camp Claudia Mo Man-ching called on pro-establishment lawmakers to vote against the upcoming government budget, but her request was rejected.

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Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-kin accused the pan-democrats of taking advantage of the situation to disrupt the city’s political structure.

On Monday, SoCo helped a homeless man, Mr Lai (not his real name), apply for legal aid for a judicial review of the proposed change in elderly welfare payments. Lai – who turns 60 in April – would fall under the revised requirements. This is despite his receiving a letter from the Social Welfare Department in October last year, telling him that he would be eligible to receive the full elderly welfare payment after his 60th birthday.

SoCo believes this policy change violates the Basic Law, which protects the rights of Hong Kong citizens to receive social welfare.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne