Following is the speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, in the motion debate on "Encouraging people to achieve continuous self-improvement" in the Legislative Council today (May 10):
As the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mr. Joseph Wong, just mentioned, the economic prosperity of Hong Kong in the past few decades is the result of hard working and self-motivation of Hong Kong people.
The welfare policy of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must be consistent with development in the community. Our objective is to provide assistance to the vulnerable groups to enable, in the longer terms, each individual and family to strive for self-reliance and self-improvement, and contribute positively to the development of the community.
Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme
The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme provides a social safety net of last resort for the financially vulnerable. I trust you would agree that those who can work should work. When the Public Assistance (PA) Scheme (the predecessor of CSSA) was extended to cover financially vulnerable unemployed people in 1977, we made it clear than all employable recipients should register with the Local Employment Service of the Labour Department to find jobs and they were required to report their employment status to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) on a regular basis.
To encourage PA recipients to seek work, part of their employment income will be disregarded when calculating the amount of CSSA payable to them. This disregarded earnings arrangement was extended to able-bodied recipients in 1988.
Active Employment Assistance Programme
To encourage unemployed CSSA recipients to become self-reliant, SWD implemented the Active Employment Assistance (AEA) Programme in June 1999 to help employable CSSA recipients to find jobs. Under the AEA Programme, staff of SWD will work with able-bodied CSSA recipients to develop individual action plans to find jobs. Participants are also arranged to perform community work so that they have opportunities to contribute to the community, re-establish and maintain work habit, and widen their social circles.
CSSA recipients are accorded priority in enrolment in retraining courses funded by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB). The average employment rate of CSSA recipients after completion of retraining is 55%.
The Lotteries Fund also provides funding for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide employment assistance to help unemployed persons, especially CSSA recipients, to return to work. For instance, the Hong Kong Council of Social Services (HKCSS) is administering a Job Matching Programme to match CSSA recipients with short-term vacancies in NGOs arising from vacation of their staff, and a special employment assistance programme aiming at providing counselling, training and employment services to CSSA single parent recipients who are eager to find jobs and become self-reliant. In addition, SWD has stepped up the processing of new CSSA cases and random checking on existing cases since 1999.
Results of the AEA Programme
The results of the AEA programme have been encouraging. Since implementation of the programme in June 1999, more than 16 000 CSSA recipients have joined the programme and 1 400 of them have found jobs. The unemployment caseload has decreased by 21% since June 1999 to about 25 500 in April 2000.
Promoting Self-reliance strategy
The success of the AEA programme clearly demonstrates that most employable CSSA recipients do not wish to rely on CSSA indefinitely. And with assistance, they can become self-reliant. We also note that some able-bodied recipients may fall into the CSSA net due to lack of support. We will therefore provide additional support services to promote self-reliance among employable CSSA recipients and other disadvantaged groups in the coming year, as follows:-
* The AEA programme will be extended to cover all CSSA unemployment and low earning cases where the recipients are not working full-time.
* Invite single parent and low earning CSSA recipients who are already working full-time and take part in the programme voluntarily.
* More intensive assistance will be offered in the form of tailor-made programmes for unemployed CSSA recipients who have joined the AEA Programme for a longer period but have not yet secured employment.
* A special job attachment programme will help recipients who have left the job market for a considerable period of time to acquire work skills and re-establish work habits.
* The Labour Department, ERB and SWD will join hand to launch a pilot project to match CSSA recipients with suitable job vacancies and provide necessary training to equip the recipients to take up the jobs, where necessary.
* The eligibility criteria for the monthly earnings disregard will be relaxed so that all working CSSA recipients, regardless of their pay level and hours of work, may benefit from it.
We will also provide other direct support services to help family carers, working parents, single parents, new arrivals and victims of family violence to help them overcome barriers to work and become self-reliant and independent.
We estimate that about $200 million of capital and recurrent funding will be required to implement the above package of measures under the Promoting Self-reliance Strategy. We will shortly provide details of our proposals to the Finance Committee for funding approval.
End/Wednesday, May 10, 2000