Following is a speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the luncheon meeting of the Hong Kong Chiu Chow Chamber of Commerce today (September 15):
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be present at the luncheon meeting today to speak on "social welfare in Hong Kong". With the advent of the new Millennium, it is indeed opportune for us to take stock of what we have achieved over the past decades and to consider how our welfare policies should evolve in future to best meet the needs of our community.
Looking back, the policies and objectives of social welfare services in Hong Kong have been promulgated in a series of white papers, the latest being the 1991 White Paper "Social Welfare into the 1990s and Beyond" and the 1995 White Paper "Equal Opportunities and Full Participation: A Better Tomorrow for All".
Hong Kong is not a welfare state; however, our society accepts an obligation to help the disadvantaged members to attain an acceptable standard of living. The challenge for Hong Kong is to improve services without creating the sort of dependency culture, a phenomenon that removes the incentive to work and undermines the productive engine of the economy. Our welfare programmes should be designed and developed in such a way as to be compatible with self-reliance, self-betterment, self-help and self-esteem.
Apart from the Government, the third sector (i.e. non-profit-distributing organisations which do not fall within the Government sector, nor the private profit-making sector) should also play an important role in the delivery of welfare services in partnership with the Government. The ability of the third sector to satisfy the differential demands of our heterogeneous society will help complement the Government's responsibility to provide basic services.
Provision of Welfare Services
Over the years, Hong Kong has built up a highly developed system of welfare services and institutions, comparable to any in Asia. The Government is fully committed to providing quality welfare services for those in need. There is now in place a safety net for the needy, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. In addition, there is a range of preventive, developmental and support services, as well as remedial services for those who are vulnerable and require such assistance. These include services for the elderly, the family, the youth, and the disabled.
Welfare spending has experienced major growth over the past few years. Recurrent expenditure on welfare will be $29.8 billion in 2000-2001, representing real growth of 9.2% over 1999-2000. $21.3 billion, or 71% of the recurrent expenditure on welfare, are spent on social security services. $6.4 billion, or 75% of the recurrent expenditure on direct welfare services (i.e. $8.5 billion), are direct subventions for non-governmental organisations.
Direct Welfare Services
The major direct welfare services include -
(a) elderly welfare services;
(b) family and child welfare services;
(c) youth welfare services;
(d) rehabilitation services for the disabled.
Elderly welfare services aim to ensure that the elderly enjoys a sense of security, belonging, health and worthiness, with the target of improving the quality of life of the elderly. In 2000-2001, $2.7 billion will be spent on elderly services. "Aging in place" is the cornerstone of our policy on elderly services and elderly people are encouraged to live at home and be taken care of by their families. For those elderly who cannot be adequately taken care of at home, residential care services for the elderly are provided. Various measures are also implemented to encourage the elderly to lead an active life.
Family welfare and child care services are provided to preserve and strengthen the family as a unit, to develop caring inter-personal relationship, to enable individuals and family members to prevent personal and family problems and to deal with them when they arise, and to provide for needs which cannot be met from within the family. In 2000-2001, $1.66 billion will be spent on family and child welfare services. These cover a wide range of preventive, supportive and remedial services, including family casework service, child care service, services for battered spouses and abused children, family life education etc.
Youth welfare services aim to provide support to our young people to help them develop into responsible and contributing members of our community. Our approach is to address the ever changing and multi-faceted needs of young people in a holistic manner by looking at a young person in his total life situation. In 2000-2001, $1.1 billion will be spent on services for young people. These cover a wide range of services, including children and youth centres, school social work service, outreaching social work service and integrated teams.
For people with disabilities, we are committed to providing them with necessary rehabilitation services and support, so that they can develop their potential and integrate fully into the community, sharing the same opportunities as other members. In 2000-2001, $2.2 billion will be spent on direct rehabilitation services. These include care, education and training of disabled pre-schoolers, as well as day care and residential services for disabled adults.
In the future development of our direct welfare services, we see benefits in moving towards greater service integration to facilitate better identification of service needs, more effective deployment of resources and avoiding duplication of efforts. For example, the formation of integrated teams which pool together resources from children and youth centres, outreaching social work and school social work under the same management unit will help enhance flexibility in the coordination and deployment of resources.
(a) Encouraging Self-Reliance
Following the recommendations of the 1998 Review of the CSSA Scheme, we implemented in June 1999 the Support for Self-Reliance Scheme with an aim of encouraging and assisting unemployed CSSA recipients to regain employment and move towards self-reliance. The three main components are: an Active Employment Assistance (AEA) programme, additional help by way of community work and incentive to work in the provision of disregarded earnings. We have seen encouraging results in helping CSSA recipients to get out of the CSSA net.
To help able-bodied CSSA recipients overcome barriers to work and become self-reliant, we will provide $200 million in 2000-2001 for implementing a Self-Reliance Strategy, which provides various employment assistance and other support services for working parents, new arrivals and single parents.
We are sympathetic to the plight faced by the unemployed and those with low income under the restructuring of our economy and the transformation towards a knowledge-based economy. The Government has been subsidizing education, training/retraining, public housing, medical and welfare services, and providing a safety net through CSSA. However, we would always be pleased to listen to the views of the community and welcome any constructive and workable ideas towards helping them with ways which are compatible with self-reliance, self-betterment, self-help and self-esteem.
(b) Subvention Reform
At present, over 90% of our direct welfare services are provided by 186 subvented non-governmental organisations in over 3,000 service units. As mentioned earlier, the amount of subvention in providing direct welfare services will reach $6.4 billion in 2000-2001.
The existing subvention system, which has long been criticised as inflexible, complex and bureaucratic, requires a complete overhaul. To meet the changing needs of the community, the Government aims to put in place a system over the next few years to -
(a) give non-governmental organisations greater autonomy in their operations to meet the ever-changing social environment;
(b) achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness;
(c) improve service quality and performance;
(d) encourage innovation in service delivery;
(e) enhance accountability; and
(f) take account of individual district needs and provide flexibility in deployment of resources to meet current social needs.
A key feature is to shift the focus of Government roles from managing input to managing output/outcome. An enhanced Service Performance Monitoring System with specific output/outcome indicators together with a revised funding system and planning mechanism will be put in place.
In the new circumstances, we need to be able to adapt quickly to meet the new and frequently changing needs of the disadvantaged. Hence, we should consider replacing the current set of rigid planning ratios in the planning of welfare services with new ways of developing a strategic needs assessment mechanism on the basis of evidence-based research. In this way, we can re-engineer our services and use our inevitably finite resources to meet the most pressing needs of our society.
To achieve improvements in the system, we will continue to build on the already strong partnership with non-governmental organisations and work to allay anxieties in the face of changes in how welfare services will be funded.
Over the past few minutes, I have outlined the nature and extent of welfare services currently provided in HK. These essentially focus on the role played by the Government and the NGO sector. But there is another important stakeholder - the general public or the community, at large. I am pleased to say that an ever increasing number are putting something back into the community and helping those in need by contributing their time and/or money. This is clearly a win-win situation for all parties and as such, the Government is keen to see this expand. In 1998, we launched a territory-wide Volunteer Movement and over 190,000 individuals have registered and participated in some form of community service.
For its part, the Government will continue to seek to provide more opportunities for participation in the life of our community particularly, in assisting those less fortunate.
May I close by thanking you for allowing me this opportunity to outline our work in the social welfare field and some of the future directions which we intend to take. Thank you for your attention.
End/Friday, September 15, 2000