The Hong Kong government has announced a HK$10 billion welfare package, though has denied the relief measures are connected to the city’s seven months of protest and social unrest. The minimum age for the HK$2 public transport concession scheme is set to be lowered from 65 to 60 years of age, alongside other sweeteners relating to workers’ pensions and holidays.
Under the updated policy announced on Tuesday, Hongkongers who are over 60, as well as disabled people under 60 who receive government subsidies, may travel on selected public transport networks at a flat cost of HK$2. The scheme covers buses, minibuses and ferries.
Explaining the change, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she intended to reveal livelihood policy changes last year, but the announcement was delayed by the pro-democracy protests that have been ongoing since last June.
“There are still many problems to handle in Hong Kong,” she said. “We hope these measures will help the grassroots.”
The transport scheme was part of ten measures which will benefit more than a million people, Lam told the press, adding that many of them were not new and had been discussed in the past: “We want to actively and positively respond to public demands,” she said.
Asked if she was shifting the focus from the protest movement’s demands, Lam said her intention was only to help the public: “We do not have other intentions.”
She said the Legislative Council has been paralysed as it failed to elect the chair of the House Committee after three months.
“It is not the best response for the government to do nothing,” she said.
Demonstrations were first sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but the movement has morphed into a wider one calling for an investigation into the police use of force, the release of all arrested protesters, the retraction of the “riot” characterisation of protests and universal suffrage.
Asked why the government announced the sweeteners when the economy was facing a downturn, Lam said new measures would be laid out if they were wanted by the public.
Other policies unveiled on Tuesday included the standardisation of the Old Age Living Allowance to HK$3,585 per month and an increase to the upper eligibility limit to HK$500,000 worth of assets.
The government will pay Mandatory Provident Fund pension contributions for workers who earn less than HK$7,100 per month. And holidays will be gradually increased for all workers to 17 days per year, increasing from 12 the statutory days that some currently enjoy.
There will be new subsidies for people who have been waiting for public housing for over three years, which will continue until they receive housing. The government will also provide certain subsidies for people who apply for Working Family Allowance if they have been queuing for public housing for under three years, are not living in public estates, or if they are not currently receiving benefits under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.
5,000 more transitional housing units will be provided, and rent controls for subsidised flats will also be studied.
The government said it will improve the welfare for its outsourced workers. And the Community Care Fund will provide a cash subsidy to unemployed people, as well as people who are considered to be underemployed.