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Commission on Poverty convenes seventh meeting in its second term
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     The Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, chaired the seventh meeting of the Commission on Poverty (CoP) in its second term this afternoon (July 22).  Today's meeting mainly discussed assistance programmes under the Community Care Fund (CCF), as well as the framework and main content of the public consultation document on retirement protection.

     At the meeting, the CoP endorsed three proposals of the assistance programmes under the CCF. Details are as follows:

(1) As more schools became eligible for joining "Provision of funding for ordinary schools to arrange special educational needs coordinators" programme due to an increase in the students with financial needs based on latest figures, the CoP endorsed an additional provision of $22 million to provide cash subsidy to these additional schools eligible for the programme.  After the adjustment, the estimated total provision for the programme would amount to around $218.84 million, and the expected number of schools joining the programme would increase to 131, benefiting more than 9 400 students with special education needs;

(2) The CoP endorsed launching the fourth round of the "Subsidy for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Recipients Living in Rented Private Housing" programme in September 2015. First launched in 2011 and relaunched in 2013 and 2014, the programme provides subsidy for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) households living in rented private housing and paying rent which exceeds the maximum rent allowance under the CSSA Scheme. In a review of the third round of the programme in 2014 conducted by the Social Welfare Department, most recipients acknowledged that the programme could relieve their financial burden for housing expenditure.  As the rent of private housing remained on an upward cycle, the CoP considered that CSSA recipients living in rented private housing were still in need of assistance, and agreed to launch the programme in 2015 for the fourth time to provide extra assistance to eligible CSSA households.  This relaunch will largely adopt the eligibility criteria and implementation arrangements in previous exercises.  It will also continue to disburse the subsidy in the form of one-off fixed amount.  Each eligible one-person CSSA household will be provided with a one-off subsidy of $2,000 and two-or-more-person CSSA household will receive $4,000. The estimated provision for the programme is around $51.5 million, benefitting almost 14 300 households. The programme will be launched in late September 2015, and it is expected that the disbursement of subsidy will commence before the end of 2015; and

(3) Following its in-principle agreement on March 27 to launching the "One-off Living Subsidy for Low-income Households Not Living in Public Housing and Not Receiving CSSA" programme for the third time in 2016, the CoP endorsed the detailed arrangements for the programme.  The eligibility criteria and implementation details will follow the practices of the second-round programme in 2015. In terms of the amount of subsidy, considering that the level of the subsidy of the re-launch programme had been raised for different households size, the CoP agreed not to adjust the subsidy level for households of one to four members, but to introduce an additional tier for households with five members or more to strengthen support for larger families. The subsidy amount of the third-round programme is as follows:

Household size (persons) @       Amount of subsidy
------------------------          -----------------
        1                    @@@@@$4,000
        2                    @@@@@$8,000
        3                    @@@@@$11,000
        4                    @@@@@$13,000
        5 or above             @@@ $14,000

     The third-round programme will receive applications from January to August 2016.  The CCF Secretariat will issue letters to the beneficiary households under the current programme and accept new applications in phases in accordance with the household size.  The provision for the programme is estimated to be $655.39 million, benefitting some 72 100 households.

     At the meeting on February 3 this year, the CoP reached preliminary consensus in three areas under the framework of the consultation document on retirement protection.  The CoP then reviewed the functions of every pillar under the multi-pillar retirement protection model at subsequent meetings.  On this basis, the CoP further deliberated on the framework and main content of the consultation document at today's meeting, and reached consensus on the following areas:

(1) To enable in-depth discussions based on concrete data, members agreed to use the latest 50-year population and labour force projections to be released by the Census and Statistics Department to update the financial assessment of the five proposals put forward by different parties and covered in the report submitted by the consultancy team led by Professor Nelson Chow, the "Demo-grant" proposal advocated by the team, and another annuity scheme;

(2) Members considered that the core issue to be addressed in the public consultation was whether the Hong Kong society should adopt a universal retirement protection proposal or a non-universal proposal to provide better protection for the needy elderly in old age.  Hence, the consultation document should set out both the universal proposals and non-universal proposals for the public's consideration;

(3) In order to facilitate public understanding on the characteristics of the universal proposals and non-universal proposals, members supported that the consultation document should provide a simple and easy-to-understand framework to compare one single universal proposal against another non-universal proposal, in terms of the overall and extra financial commitments required during the projection period, as well as the additional subsidy amount received by different groups of elderly.  The CoP agreed to use the "Demo-grant" proposal from the team led by Professor Nelson Chow as the basis for analysing universal retirement protection proposals.  As to non-universal proposals, a concrete proposal would be formulated for comparison after making reference to the two non-universal proposals covered in the report submitted by the team;

(4) Members agreed that the consultation document should address the issue of "who foots the bill".  Given limited resources, the community should discuss how much more resources we are willing to invest in retirement protection, without affecting the sustainable development of other policy areas (such as elderly medical care and welfare services which should also be strengthened in face of an ageing population, and education and infrastructure which help increase Hong Kong's competitiveness).  Members considered that how to increase public revenue is an issue that cannot be avoided in discussing retirement protection; and

(5) Members expressed understanding that the consultation document should explain clearly Government's stance on the future development of retirement protection.  Having regard to the sustainability of the universal option and its impact on public finance, as well as the guiding principle that allocation of public resources should be directed to help the under-privileged, the Government still has reservation about the universal option.  Nonetheless, the Government acknowledged that there is room for improving the existing multi-pillar system.  The community should focus on discussing how to consolidate the existing system and improve and strengthen each pillar, with a view to providing more appropriate assistance to the needy elderly in old age.  As such, the consultation document should review the situation of each pillar and put forth possible ideas for improvement based on CoP's deliberations in the past meetings.

     At the meeting, the CoP followed up its discussion in December last year on the poverty situation of the persons with disability (PWD) in 2013 and was briefed on the work of the Special Need Groups Task Force in respect of promoting PWD employment.  Members agreed that some proposals raised were worth pursuing, including improving the CSSA arrangement to encourage more PWDs to work, considering increasing the manpower of the Labour Department (LD) and outsourcing the post-employment support for PWDs to welfare organisations to strengthen LD's capacity in dealing with PWD employment cases based on a case management approach.

     In addition, after a briefing by the representatives of Light Be, a social innovative enterprise, on its "Light Home" project, members gained a better understanding of how the project can help single-parent families in need to achieve self-reliance through utilising residential property in an innovative manner.

Ends/Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Issued at HKT 22:34

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