Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced a concessionary measure whereby it will give extra financial support to elderly people between 60 and 64, following an outcry from lawmakers over cuts.
The new measure followed a controversial move by Lam to push up the age for Hong Kong residents eligible for elderly support under the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme from 60 to 65. As of next month, those aged between 60 and 64 can still apply for the CSSA for able-bodied adults, but will receive HK$1,060 less per month.
However, under the new “employment support supplement” scheme announced on Friday, elderly people between the ages of 60 and 64 – who apply for the CSSA for able-bodied adults – will receive an extra subsidy of HK$1,060 in cash from February 1. The amount will be automatically handed out to applicants.
Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun proposed a motion at the legislature urging the government to scrap the change in the CSSA scheme, and received support across the political spectrum when it was passed on Thursday afternoon. That evening, Lam met with lawmakers of the pro-establishment camp to offer the new measure.
Lam said at a press conference on Friday that the change in age threshold was only made because of changes in population, and not to save money: “These social welfare measures were reasonable and well-grounded, but there was room for improvement for the implementation.”
She added that there will not be any new administrative costs involved.
“What I am saying and confessing today is in the actual implementation and planning, there is room for improvement. And today’s announcements are improvement measures to ensure more effective and compassionate implementation of the policy initiatives. I would not regard that as backing down or yielding to pressure or being populist. Had I known this two months ago, before all these issues had caught public concern, I would probably have done the same thing.”
Eleven pro-democracy lawmakers marched in protest outside the government headquarters, saying that the new measure was unacceptable.
Shiu Ka-chun said elderly CSSA not only gives elderly people more in cash, it also provides subsidies for items such as glasses and healthcare, amounting to around HK$2,000 per month.
“It is a very important quality for leaders to admit their mistakes. Carrie Lam made a wrong decision to raise the age limit of elderly CSSA scheme, but she did not admit the mistake, and only made a minor concession,” he said.
Shiu said he was furious that the government had not met any pro-democracy lawmakers before issuing the new measure, even though he was the one who proposed the motion at the legislature urging the government to scrap the change.
Lam did not directly respond to the criticism at the press conference, but said she had been speaking regularly to pro-democracy lawmakers: “I still have the freedom to choose which lawmaker to meet,” Lam said. “I am not sure if it was because of jealousy… But I have never really declined to meet lawmakers from across the spectrum.”
During the 2018 budget, Hong Kong announced a surplus of HK$138 billion.