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Speech by SHWF on social welfare at LegCo Finance Committee special meeting

    Following is the speech (translated version) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr York Chow, on social welfare at the special meeting of the Finance Committee in the Legislative Council today (March 15):

Chairman and Honourable Members,

     Recurrent government expenditure on social welfare in 2006-07 is $34.6 billion, an increase of $2.3 billion compared with the Revised Estimate of 2005-06. It amounts to 17.3% of total recurrent government expenditure, which ranks second after the funds allocated to education.

     In the past few years while the Government was under fiscal constraint, expenditure in many areas has been reduced. However, recurrent expenditure on welfare was increased every year and has doubled during the past decade. Disregarding the growth in expenditure relating to the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme and other social security schemes, the expenditure on welfare has increased by more than 90%, which far exceeded the growth in the government expenditure over the same period (39.6%). In the coming year, public expenditure on welfare including the non-recurrent items will amount to $36.2 billion.  

     The Government has never slackened in its commitment to caring for disadvantaged groups. With the growing welfare budget and heavily subsidised public health, housing and education, we have already built up a comprehensive safety net.  

     Government recurrent expenditure on social security has almost doubled from 6.3% in 1994-95 to 12.2% in 2005-06. We must ensure the sustainability of our welfare system. Our emphasis will be to strengthen the support services, thereby increasing the social capital of different people with different needs to face adversities and thrive.  

     The resources we will invest in the elderly will also increase. In 2006-07, Government's estimated expenditure on social security for the elderly and services for the elderly (not including public housing or public health services) will amount to $16.5 billion, representing an increase of 4.7% compared with the 2005-06 Revised Estimate.

     It is the wish of many of our elderly to remain at home. We will help them with an additional $20 million recurrent expenditure to strengthen home care services for the elderly in need by providing cleaning and meal delivery services as well as staff to escort them on outings.  

     The Chief Executive pledged in his Policy Address in October 2005 to further strengthen families and our support to them. Despite the full array of existing services available to families, there remain needy families who are unwilling to seek help. To increase connection with these families and to address their problems at an early stage, additional recurrent funding of $30 million has been allocated to launch a Family Support Programme (FSP) in Integrated Family Service Centres/Integrated Services Centres (ISCs), Family and Child Protective Services Units (FCPSUs) and Psychiatric Medical Social Services Units (MSSUs) in 2006-07. Also, we have allocated additional resources to strengthen and extend family education to promote the values, ethics and individual responsibility needed for family harmony.

     The Administration attaches much importance to early childhood development. With an emphasis on early identification and early intervention of problems, the pilot Comprehensive Child Development Service (CCDS) was launched in Sham Shui Po in July 2005. It was extended to Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O in January 2006. An additional $20 million has been earmarked to improve the pilot CCDS and gradually extend the service to other communities in Hong Kong in phases. We aim to conduct a full review of the pilot service run in the third quarter of 2006.

     To achieve the policy objective of helping people with disabilities to fully integrate into society, we will provide convalescent and continuing rehabilitation day services to discharged patients with mental, neurological or physical impairment, and will strengthen training and support services for family members and carers of people with disabilities through various rehabilitation services programmes. We will also launch a Visiting Medical Practitioner Scheme to enhance basic medical care for people with disabilities living in residential rehabilitation service centres.

     The total provision for promoting women's interests in 2006-07 amounts to $19.8 million, representing an increase of 17.2% in real terms over 2005-06.

     In the past five years, the Women's Commission, with full support of the Government, has made good progress in promoting women's interests. In 2006-07, we will continue to support the Women's Commission to promote family-friendly employment policies and practices, to explore initiatives to nurture caring families through promotion of quality parenting education, and to promote a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle domestic violence in partnership with stakeholders, among other ongoing initiatives.

     Chairman, this concludes my opening remarks. My colleagues and I will be happy to answer questions from Members.

Ends/Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Issued at HKT 19:09