III. Poverty Alleviation, Care for the Elderly and Support for the Disadvantaged
46. The current-term Government is determined to tackle the poverty problem. Our poverty alleviation policy is to encourage young people and adults to become self-reliant through employment, while putting in place a reasonable and sustainable social security and welfare system to help those who cannot provide for themselves.
47. Last September, the Government set the first-ever official poverty line, which provides a clear and objective basis to review the poverty situation, formulate policies and assess the effectiveness of measures. It will be updated annually to monitor the poverty situation and the effectiveness of our policies. The CoP will continue to serve as the major policy platform to assist the Government in pursuing poverty alleviation initiatives.
48. The initiatives that I put forward today cover a wide range of areas and will benefit various groups. Together, they form our blueprint for poverty alleviation.
Low-income Working Family Allowance
49. As the 2012 poverty statistics clearly show, we should accord priority to assisting non-Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (non-CSSA) working families living below the poverty line, especially those with children and young members at school. The Government proposes to introduce a Low-income Working Family Allowance. There are two major considerations.
50. First, despite the protection offered by the statutory minimum wage, many grassroots workers, as the sole breadwinners of families, still bear a heavy financial burden. Providing them with suitable assistance and encouraging them to remain employed will help keep them from falling into the CSSA safety net.
51. Second, special attention must be paid to the children and youths of these families. Offering them appropriate support promotes upward mobility and breaks the vicious cycle of inter-generational poverty.
52. The proposed Low-income Working Family Allowance is premised on three basic principles:
(i) The basic allowance will be granted on a family basis and tied to employment and working hours to encourage self-reliance. More allowance will be granted to those who work more. Families with eligible children and young members will receive additional allowance;
(ii) To ensure effective use of resources, an income test and an asset test with a lower threshold will be introduced; and
(iii) The scheme's structure will be as simple and easy to understand as possible, with appropriate safeguards against abuse.
53. According to our initial thinking, a beneficiary family, which is not on CSSA, must have at least two members, with at least one working for a reasonable number of hours to maintain the principle of self-reliance. For the asset test, the Government proposes to broadly adopt the asset limits for public rental housing (PRH) applications. There will be no minimum residence requirement. All eligible Hong Kong residents may apply.
54. The Government will introduce a two-tier system based on working hours and family income. If the family income is equivalent to or below 50% of the median monthly domestic household income and the applicant is a working member who meets the working hour threshold, this family will be eligible for a full basic allowance of $600 or $1,000 per month depending on the working hour tier to which it belongs. If the family includes children or youth members, it is entitled to an additional full allowance of $800 per month for each eligible child or youth member. Taking the 2012 data as an example, a four-member family with two eligible children and a monthly income at or below $14,400 will be entitled to a total disbursement of $2,200 or $2,600 per month depending on the working hour tier to which it belongs, provided that the applicant is a working member who meets the working hour threshold. The Chief Secretary for Administration and the Secretary for Labour and Welfare will announce the details later.
55. The annual expenditure involved is estimated to be around $3 billion. More than 200 000 low-income families with 710 000 members, including 180 000 eligible children and young people, will benefit from the allowance. To help prevent poverty, low-income families with a monthly income slightly higher than 50% of the median domestic household income may also receive a half-rate allowance.
56. This recurrent measure will involve a substantial amount of public funds and provide an extensive coverage. Although the Government has set the policy direction, careful deliberation is still required to work out the operational details. In rendering assistance to low-income working families and encouraging continued employment, we must refrain from distorting the labour market or undermining the incentive to work. We must take into account the long-term financial commitment of the Government while focusing on helping the most needy groups. We will listen to the views of the public on the proposed allowance over the next few months. We will then seek funding approval from this Council to implement the scheme in 2015.
Community Care Fund
57. The Community Care Fund (CCF) is an important part of the Government's poverty alleviation blueprint. Since its establishment in 2011, the CCF has effectively plugged gaps in the existing system by launching 24 assistance programmes with more than 600 000 beneficiaries. So far, three pilot programmes that have been found effective in alleviating poverty have been incorporated into the Government's regular assistance programmes. From April 2014, the Government will progressively regularise another seven programmes. Beneficiaries will include primary and secondary students receiving student financial assistance; underprivileged students pursuing eligible programmes below sub-degree level; CSSA recipients who are Tenants Purchase Scheme flat owners; children from low-income families on the waiting list for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services; and, persons with severe physical disabilities living in the community and requiring constant care.
58. The CCF Task Force under the CoP will continue to ensure the efficient use of the CCF's resources, including the additional injection of $15 billion last year, in drawing up more assistance programmes to meet the needs of different groups. The Government will also request the CoP to continue strengthening the support for low-income families in the coming year, including the possible provision of a one-off subsidy for children or young people from such families as well as low-income families not living in PRH and not receiving CSSA (known colloquially as the "n have-nots").
Improving the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme
59. Poverty line analysis shows that the CSSA is effective in alleviating poverty. To keep in line with the broad policy directions of promoting upward mobility and self-reliance through employment as a means of poverty alleviation, new measures should focus on enhancing support for students receiving CSSA and increasing work incentives for adult CSSA recipients. The Government will implement the following measures:
(i) Increase the grants for school-related expenses for primary and secondary students of CSSA families through regularisation of a CCF programme from the 2014/15 school year;
(ii) Include post-secondary students of CSSA families in the calculation of rent allowance with effect from April 2014 so a family's entitlement will not be affected if it has members receiving post-secondary education; and
(iii) Implement a pilot incentive scheme under the CCF in line with recommendations endorsed by the CoP to encourage able-bodied CSSA recipients to leave the safety net and achieve self-reliance through employment.
60. Besides, the Government will provide additional rent assistance for CSSA recipients by:
(i) regularising a CCF programme to provide rent allowance for CSSA recipients who have been Tenants Purchase Scheme flat owners for more than five years; and
(ii) inviting the CCF to provide again a one-off subsidy to CSSA households living in rented private housing and paying a rent which exceeds the maximum rent allowance under the CSSA Scheme.
61. The CoP has commissioned a consultancy study by a team, with Professor Nelson Chow as the chief consultant, to assess various retirement protection schemes on the basis of the multi-pillar approach advocated by the World Bank and to make recommendations on the way forward. The team will submit a report to the CoP before mid-2014. The Government will adopt an open and pragmatic attitude in considering the way forward for retirement protection.
62. I proposed in my Manifesto and set up the $500 million Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund after I took office. The fund encourages individuals and organisations who care about social development, including young people who wish to start their own business, to help tackle poverty and associated social problems by innovative ideas and modes of operation. The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force under the CoP will engage the first group of intermediaries in a few months' time. The fund will be open for applications through intermediaries starting from mid-2014.
Care for the Elderly
Elderly Services Programme Plan
63. I emphasised in my Manifesto the need to respect, love and care for the elderly. I will ask the Elderly Commission to prepare an Elderly Services Programme Plan within two years.
Ageing in Place
64. The Social Welfare Department (SWD) rolled out the first phase of the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly in September 2013. The scheme has adopted a "money-following-the-user" approach that enables eligible elderly people to use vouchers to acquire services of their choice. By end-December 2013, about 750 vouchers had been issued by the SWD. Meanwhile, the Government will continue to provide additional resources to increase subsidised places for other community care services.
65. The Government will allocate additional resources to elderly centres to strengthen support for the elderly, including enhancing information dissemination and counselling services, care needs assessment and processing of care services applications. The support rendered to elderly persons with dementia and their carers by district elderly community centres will be strengthened. The CCF Task Force is also considering a pilot scheme on a carer allowance for the elderly.
66. The Government will continue to increase the supply of subsidised residential care places for the elderly through a multi-pronged approach that includes, among others, the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses. We will allocate additional resources to extend the continuum of care to subsidised nursing home places.
67. The Government will purchase residential care places from an elderly home run by a Hong Kong non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Shenzhen to provide an option for the elderly on the Central Waiting List for subsidised residential care places. The SWD will invite eligible elderly people to apply for those places in the second quarter of this year and make move-in arrangements in the third quarter. We are also discussing similar arrangements with another elderly home in Zhaoqing run by a Hong Kong NGO. The scheme will be reviewed two years after implementation.
68. I announced in my last Policy Address that the Government would study the feasibility of adopting the subsidy mode of Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly for residential care services. We will ask the Elderly Commission to conduct the study and submit a report to the Government in the coming year. If it is considered feasible to run a residential care service voucher pilot scheme, we will provide the necessary resources. In this connection, the Government has earmarked about $800 million to meet the expenses incurred in issuing a total of 3 000 residential care service vouchers in three phases from 2015-16 to 2017-18. Taking into account these 3 000 vouchers, the Government will provide about 5 000 additional subsidised residential care places for the elderly within the current term of office.
69. The OALA I proposed in my Manifesto has benefited over 410 000 elderly people since it was introduced last April. The Government will review this measure by the end of this year to ascertain, among other things, whether the asset limits should be relaxed.
70. The Guangdong Scheme launched last October allows Hong Kong elderly people residing in Guangdong to continue receiving the Old Age Allowance, commonly known as "fruit money", without the need to return to Hong Kong every year. The initial response to the scheme has been positive. By the end of last year, about 16 700 elderly people had submitted applications and about 7 000 are now receiving the allowance. This year, the Government will seriously explore the feasibility of extending the OALA to Guangdong in light of the scheme's operating experience.
71. The utilisation rate of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Pilot Scheme has been increasing since the voucher amount was doubled last year. To ease the elderly's demand for public out-patient services and to enhance their awareness of the importance of primary care, we propose to further double the annual voucher amount to $2,000 within this year, while incorporating the pilot scheme into the regular assistance programme.
72. As the scheme also applies to dental services, the increased amount will enable the elderly to have access to private dental services. In addition, we will convert the free outreach primary dental care services for the elderly in residential care homes or day care centres into a regular programme, and expand the scope of services to include fillings, extractions and dentures. The CCF Task Force is actively considering expanding the scope of an existing elderly dental programme to benefit more elderly people with financial difficulties.
73. A total of 108 elder academies have been set up in primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions. The Government plans to inject $50 million into the Elder Academy Development Foundation. In addition, the popular scheme allowing the elderly to travel at a concessionary fare of $2 will be extended in phases to include green minibuses starting from the first quarter of 2015.
Support for the Disadvantaged
74. There are more than 60 000 South Asian ethnic minority people living in Hong Kong, an increase of 50% over the past decade. They have much difficulty integrating fully into the community due to differences in culture, language and ethnic background. The Government will strengthen education support and employment services for them.
75. Most South Asian ethnic minority residents call Hong Kong home. To integrate into the community and develop their careers, they must improve their ability to listen to, speak, read and write Chinese. We will strengthen the Chinese learning support for ethnic minorities from early childhood education through to primary and secondary levels.
76. For early childhood education, the Education Bureau (EDB) will enhance school-based support services for kindergartens admitting ethnic minority children. The experience gained will be shared with other kindergartens. As ethnic minority students are not native speakers of Chinese, the EDB will make special arrangements in the curriculum design and teaching mode of primary and secondary education. From the 2014/15 school year, the Government will implement a Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework with supporting learning and teaching materials as well as assessment tools for ethnic minority students in primary and secondary schools. Annual funding of approximately $200 million will be provided from the 2014/15 school year to enhance school support, such as an intensive teaching mode to improve the Chinese foundation of ethnic minority students at junior primary levels to facilitate their migration to the mainstream Chinese language classes. The EDB will offer school-based professional support and in-service professional development programmes to enhance the professional capability of schools and teachers in teaching Chinese as a second language.
77. From the 2014/15 school year, the EDB will, in stages, provide an Applied Learning (Chinese Language) subject for ethnic minority students at senior secondary levels. The subject will be pegged at Levels 1 to 3 of the Qualifications Framework. The EDB is also developing Vocational Chinese Language courses for ethnic minority school leavers to enhance their employability.
78. The Government supports the employment of more ethnic minorities in all sectors. The Civil Service Bureau will continue to follow up with various departments on the review of and adjustments to the language proficiency requirements on the basis that the adjusted requirements will not affect the functioning of the grades concerned, to ensure that ethnic minorities will continue to have equal access to job opportunities in the Government.
79. The Home Affairs Department will strengthen community support for ethnic minorities. A new service centre will be established in Kwai Tsing. More ethnic minority residents will be recruited to expand the outreach service. In addition, the Police Force encourages ethnic minority residents to join the Junior Police Call (JPC) and integrate into the community. Its target is to increase non-ethnic Chinese JPC membership from the existing 1 900 to 2 500 in five years.
Persons with Disabilities
80. In line with the direction of our rehabilitation policy, the Government is committed to building a barrier-free environment, including hardware and software support, to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal opportunities and participate in full in their personal growth, education, employment and social life. In addition, we need to provide their families and carers with appropriate support to alleviate their physical and emotional burden.
81. The Government proposes:
(i) to upgrade the Commissioner for Rehabilitation's ranking and strengthen the establishment of the Commission's team to enhance co-ordination among various bureaux and departments;
(ii) to provide additional teacher assistants for schools for children with intellectual disability, physical disability, and visual impairment cum intellectual disability as well as the psychiatric classes of hospital schools; and reduce progressively to 12 students the class size in schools for children with visual impairment and schools for social development;
(iii) to increase the staff of the boarding section of special schools and provide an additional grant for these schools to enhance the support for boarders with complex medical conditions;
(iv) to provide 6 200 additional places for rehabilitation services, including 2 016 places for day training and vocational rehabilitation services, 2 713 places for residential care services and 1 471 places for pre-school rehabilitation during the term of this Government. In the long run, the Government will also provide additional places through the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses;
(v) to regularise the Pilot Bought Place Scheme for Private Residential Care Homes for Persons with Disabilities, with the cap of subsidised places in each home raised to 70%;
(vi) to regularise three CCF programmes. One provides a training subsidy for children with disabilities from low-income families, allowing them to pay for self-financing services while they are on the waiting list for subvented pre-school services. The other two provide a subsidy for persons with severe physical disabilities living in the community to cover their expenses to purchase medical equipment and consumables, and for one-stop integrated support services co-ordinated by case managers in accordance with their needs;
(vii) to continue to promote the Talent-Wise Employment Charter and Inclusive Organisations Recognition Scheme launched in September 2013 to encourage more employers to provide internship and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. The Government, as an employer, will further promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the civil service;
(viii) to raise the incentive payment in Sheltered Workshops and Integrated Vocational Rehabilitation Services Centres;
(ix) to increase funding support for District Support Centres for Persons with Disabilities, self-help organisations, sign language interpretation services as well as short-term day and residential care services to enhance support for persons with disabilities living in the community and their family carers;
(x) to increase funding support for day training centres to enhance care and support for ageing service users;
(xi) to inject $200 million into the Hong Kong Paralympians Fund to strengthen support for athletes with disabilities; and
(xii) to extend the Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Eligible Persons with Disabilities to eligible children with disabilities under the age of 12 starting from the first half of this year so they can travel on general MTR lines, franchised buses and ferries for $2 per trip. The Government will explore with the trade ways to resolve technical and operational problems to extend the scheme to green minibuses in phases from the first quarter of 2015.
Students with Special Educational Needs
82. In addition to the support measures implemented last year, the Government will step up support for students with special educational needs studying in ordinary schools by increasing the level of the Learning Support Grant by 30% in the 2014/15 school year. The schools will receive an annual subsidy of $13,000 or $26,000 for each student with special educational needs, depending on the tier of support required.
Social Welfare Planning
Implementing the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses
83. In the last Policy Address, I proposed optimising the use of land and utilising the Lotteries Fund in a flexible manner. Over the past year, the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) and the social welfare sector have actively taken this forward. The Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses was formulated to encourage social welfare organisations to better use their land through in-situ expansion or redevelopment, especially to provide additional facilities for elderly and rehabilitation services. We invited applications for the scheme last September and the response was overwhelming. The LWB received preliminary proposals from about 40 organisations involving about 60 in-situ expansion or redevelopment projects. Based on the rough estimates of these organisations, the scheme will provide about 17 000 additional service places for the elderly and persons with disabilities. The Government will inject $10 billion into the Lotteries Fund and provide the necessary assistance to ensure that this major social welfare infrastructure programme will be implemented smoothly.
Enhancing the Lump Sum Grant Subvention System
84. From 2014-15 onwards, the Government will increase annual recurrent funding for NGOs under the Lump Sum Grant Subvention System to strengthen their central administrative and supervisory support, and to increase the provision for "other charges". The Government will allow NGOs more flexibility in using the Provident Fund reserve. The Government will also provide additional resources to enable NGOs to recruit and retain paramedical staff more effectively or hire paramedical services to deliver their SWD-subvented services. In 2014-15, the above measures will together incur additional recurrent expenditure of about $470 million.
Human Resources in Care Services
85. To cope with the demand for care personnel, and to provide the younger generation with more employment options, the Government introduced a "first-hire-then-train" pilot scheme through the Lotteries Fund last year. Under the scheme, young people are recruited to provide care services at residential care homes for the elderly and are provided with subsidies to pursue a two-year part-time programme offered by the Open University. After completing the programme, they can be promoted to a higher position and pursue further career development in care services. Since the pilot scheme has been well received, the Government has earmarked funding to expand it to cover rehabilitation services and provide an additional 1 000 places in the coming few years.
One-stop Service for Processing Applications for Welfare Benefits
86. To improve the current situation that requires the public to approach different departments to apply for benefits under different welfare schemes, the Government will commission a consultancy study to examine the feasibility of providing a more user-friendly one-stop service.
87. The Government attaches great importance to promoting safety at work. The Labour Department (LD) vigorously enforces the law and takes special enforcement actions against industries with poor safety records. Together with the Occupational Safety and Health Council, related workers' unions and trade associations, the LD launches occupational safety and health initiatives, and organises large-scale publicity campaigns and education activities to raise industries' awareness and standards of occupational safety and health.
88. As quite a number of women homemakers are prepared to rejoin the labour market, and many trades and sectors have a tight manpower situation, helping women to achieve a balance between family and work is one issue being addressed by the public engagement exercise on population policy. The LWB and the Women's Commission are conducting a survey to find out the reasons why Hong Kong women leave the labour market and the factors that attract them to take up employment again. The findings will serve as reference for policy formulation.
89. To improve after-school care services provided by NGOs for children aged 6 to 12, the SWD will, from 2014-15, allocate additional resources to extend the service hours on weekday evenings, weekends and school holidays in some after-school care centres and provide additional fee-waiving and fee-reduction quotas. The SWD will also extend the Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project by lifting the age limit of service beneficiaries from six to nine, and providing additional places for the home-based child care service under the project.
(To be continued)
Ends/Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:01