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LC: Speech by Secretary for Health and Welfare on budget


Following is a speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the Budget debate in the Legislative Council today (April 4):

Madam President,

I wish to thank Members for expressing their views on the Budget proposals and would like to take this opportunity to respond in relation to welfare services.

Commitment To Helping the Disadvantaged

As I have said before, welfare is a requisite for the well-being of any society. To this end, we seek to build a caring community so that everyone can develop their full potential and contribute to society. In developing this theme, the Chief Executive has said that our social policies, as reflected in our policy commitments, seek to enable socially disadvantaged groups to access opportunities for economic and social participation.

In the coming year, we propose to spend $30.2 billion on recurrent welfare services. This represents 13.8% of total recurrent public expenditure. In real terms, it is a 9.3% increase over last year and clearly demonstrates our commitment in caring and helping the disadvantaged members of our community.

Family and Children

The family remains a vital component in our society. It is the basic unit which provides reciprocal physical, psycho-social and financial support and care for all its members, enabling its members to overcome problems, develop resilience and self-reliance, necessary for effective family functioning. In the midst of rapid social changes, it is important to preserve the strengths and capabilities of the family and to enhance its functioning. In doing so, the role of the Government is not to serve as a substitute for the family, but rather to provide the necessary environment to facilitate members to develop their capacities, assist them to cope with difficulties and to become self-reliant. Promoting the well-being of individuals and harmony of families are pre-requisites for the stability, social cohesion and the foundation of our society's future.

However, with the passage of time, it is inevitable that traditional family structures will change. Nevertheless, the Administration continues to believe in the importance of the family unit and family values in our society. Whilst the nuclear family remains dominant in Hong Kong, it is becoming readily apparent that the number of other types of families is increasing. Today, we see more single parent families; more split families; more step families etc. Some but not all of these will experience unique problems and we need to be sufficiently flexible in terms of our welfare service provision, to be able to help them overcome these. The problems manifest themselves in different forms ranging from divorce, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs to behavioural problems in their children.

In our view, for the most part the vast majority of children are integral and functioning members of a family. The development of a comprehensive family policy, takes account of the needs of, and services required for, children and youngsters. In terms of service provision, much is already being done and in the new financial year, we estimate recurrent expenditure in excess of $1.7 b in this policy area. But services must continue to evolve to meet the current day needs of families and the Administration is committed to this. In particular, we must better integrate our services so as to provide a more holistic, multi-disciplinary and wherever possible, a one-stop service for families.


Young people are the future of our community. Our aim is to assist and encourage young people, including the more vulnerable youth, to become mature, responsible and contributing members of society. As such, we must ensure that we give them, all of them, every opportunity to develop their full potential and achieve self-reliance. To achieve this is not easy with the family providing the primary support system assisted by the collaborative efforts of, teachers, social workers, the media and other groups in the community.

Indeed, we also recognize the challenges faced by parents today and have therefore injected additional resources into parent education activities and other relevant family welfare service.

On the subject of resources, we have earmarked an additional $84 million in 2001-02, rising to about $180 million a year by 2003-04, to launch a comprehensive programme of support services for youth-at-risk. With this, recurrent welfare expenditure for young people in 2001-2 will be in excess of $1.2 billion, an increase of over 7% on last year.

Inevitably, some young people encounter problems in growing-up and the causes can be many and varied and hence solutions, complex. In HK, a 3-pronged approach to helping youth-at-risk is adopted namely, early identification, timely support and where necessary, pro-actively steering marginal youth back onto the right course.

This year's Budget included a number of funding proposals designed to enhance our work in this area. To identify youth-at-risk, we intend to introduce a screening tool into 200 secondary schools by 2003-04 and to eventually extend the service into primary schools. This will facilitate the provision of a primary preventive programme for students who exhibit various risk factors.

In terms of providing timely support, Members will be aware that a number of services are already available including children and youth centres, the outreach social work service, the school social work service and integrated team service. Since August 2000, we have implemented a policy of providing one school social worker in each secondary school and enhancing the availability of community-based resources to schools. To step up our efforts, we intend to form additional integrated teams which have proven to be a more effective means of providing service to young people. Additional funds will be provided for this purpose. Police liaison work in schools will also be strengthened. In this way, we will be able to provide more support and counselliing to young people especially, those at risk.

Whilst our preventive and development work is extensive, a small number of young people inevitably fall prey to bad influences. We must do all we can to reach out to these marginal youth and given them the needed support. In addition to our existing programmes, we will provide additional recurrent funding to non-governmental organizations to employ an extra 30 outreach social workers devoted solely to helping young night drifters. We will also increase the number of Community Support Service Scheme teams so that coverage is the Territory-wide. In this way, we will be able to provide timely and effective rehabilitation services to school dropouts, unemployed or underemployed young people roaming the streets at night; and delinquent adolescents committing minor offences, with a view to steering them in the right direction and integrating them back into mainstream education or preparing them for employment. They must not be forgotten.


Care for older persons remains a priority area of concern to the Government. To ensure that older persons receive care services tailored to their needs, we conduct a comprehensive care need assessment based on which a care plan can be prepared for each frail older person. We are introducing the concept of continuum of care to both residential care homes and home and community care so that frail older persons can be better served. Additional resources are also being allocated to strengthen medical support for residential care homes and the enhanced home and community care services.

In the 5 years commencing April 1997, an additional $1.8 billion has been earmarked to improve direct welfare services for older persons, an increase of 125%. The bulk of this money will be spent on care for frail older persons, either in increasing the supply of subsidized residential care beds or providing home and community care for those living at home :

* 26,000 subsidized beds will be provided by March 2002, an increase of 68% compared with April 1997; and

* 31,000 elderly cases will benefit from a range of home and community care services, including home help, home care, day care or enhanced home and community care services with resources allocated in 2001-02.


People with disabilities also received considerable attention in the Budget. As with other vulnerable groups we seek to protect, facilitate their independence and nurture the development of their full potential. We must help them to be self-reliant.

To provide greater support for people with disabilities, we have earmarked $219M in 2001/2 to implement a package of measures to address their day-care, residential and employment needs. Taken with new resources already earmarked, an additional 5,100 day and residential places will be provided over the next 5 years. In addition, innovative employment assistance packages including on-the-job training programmes and seed money for NGOs to create new employment opportunities will be funded.


In conclusion, I wish to re-iterate that this Budget will bring about many new opportunities to help the socially disadvantaged gain self-reliance and improve the quality of their lives. Our ultimate goal is for the community to optimize its human resource potential and to maximize its social capital. To achieve this, we must ensure that all members of our community can participate and are included whatever their problems, rather than excluded.

Thank you, Madam President

End/Wednesday, April 4, 2001


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