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Budget Speech by the Financial Secretary (13)

The Elderly

149. The Government has always cared greatly about the well being of the elderly.  The Government will continue to work closely with the Elderly Commission to help enhance the abilities of the elderly and to maintain their vitality so that they can continue to contribute to the community and the economy.

Elder Academies

150. Following this direction, the Government and the Elderly Commission have established 32 school-based Elder Academies in all the 18 districts of Hong Kong.  This scheme has started to deliver results, and it is expected that the Elder Academies can provide over 5 000 places for the elderly in 2008.  We will continue to promote this scheme.  Apart from sustaining this development at primary and secondary school levels, we will extend the scheme to tertiary institutions so that the elderly will have the opportunity to take suitable courses at universities to continue their learning.

Care Services

151. In respect of elderly care services, I propose to increase funding by $60 million a year to provide an additional 160 day care places, 278 more subsidised residential care places and 180 more infirmary places in residential care homes for the elderly.  I also propose to provide additional funding of $18 million a year for District Elderly Community Centres to recruit more staff to strengthen their counselling and referral services and their processing of applications for subsidised long-term care services for the elderly.

Home Environment

152. The Policy Address stated that the Government will help elderly people without family support to improve their homes in the next five years.  I have earmarked $200 million to implement this measure.  The main targets of this measure are the elderly people, especially those living alone, who are living in dilapidated homes with poor fittings.

153. Following assessment, the elderly in need will be provided with minor home maintenance and improvement services as well as the necessary fittings according to their home environment.  The amount of subsidy for each household will be subject to a ceiling of $5,000.  It is expected that about 40 000 elderly households will benefit from this measure.

Maintenance of Self-occupied Properties

154. We note that some needy elderly people have not properly maintained their self-occupied properties because of financial difficulties.  The plight of some may even make it impossible for other owners and ownersˇ¦ corporations to comply with maintenance orders issued by the Buildings Department, thus endangering the safety of public areas and the external walls of the buildings.

155. In view of this, I propose to earmark $1 billion as a subsidy for the elderly in need to carry out maintenance or safety improvement works for their self-occupied properties in the next five years, subject to a ceiling of $40,000 per eligible elderly person.  This proposal will benefit 30 000 elderly people.

156. For those elderly people who are unable to pay off property maintenance loans previously obtained through the Buildings Department, the URA or the HS, they can also apply for the subsidy to repay the debts.  We will ask the HS to implement this scheme.

Old Age Allowance Scheme

157. In the past few months, I have heard people discussing cases of the elderly relying on the Old Age Allowance for their living and calls for the Government to increase the allowance.  I am very concerned about such cases because the existing safety net provided by CSSA should be able to give them adequate assistance.  According to some media reports, the elderly people concerned are not eligible for CSSA because they own self-occupied properties.  As a matter of fact, under the existing system, owning a self-occupied property does not affect the eligibility of elderly people for CSSA.  The elderly in need can contact the Social Welfare Department early to have their eligibility assessed.

158. With an ageing population, the number of elderly people is expected to increase from the current 870 000 to about 2.17 million by 2033, or two and a half times the present population.  The expenditure on the Old Age Allowance will increase accordingly, in todayˇ¦s money, from $3.9 billion in 2008 to $9.7 billion in 2033, posing a considerable burden to public finances in the long run.  If the Old Age Allowance were increased to $1,000 for each eligible person, by 2033 expenditure would surge to $14 billion.  In the long run, this measure would be unsustainable, and the expenditure involved would become a heavy burden on the community.

159. I agree that the Government should provide more assistance to the elderly in need.  We must explore a feasible long-term option for the Old Age Allowance.  While the option should provide adequate assistance to the elderly in need to ensure the proper use of public money, it should also be a sustainable and affordable one for the community.  We hope that such an option can gain the general support of the public.

160. The issue we need to resolve is how additional assistance could be provided to the elderly in need but without further increasing the burden of the Old Age Allowance Scheme on public finances in the long run.  Subject to this overriding principle, the Government is willing to consider any option, such as identifying the elderly in need through means tests and re-deploying resources to render them more appropriate assistance.

161. The Labour and Welfare Bureau will conduct in-depth studies on how to improve the Old Age Allowance Scheme and seek views from various sectors of the community.  We hope that a decision can be made by the end of this year.  I will make available resources as necessary.

162. To enable Old Age Allowance recipients to share the fruits of our economic growth, I propose to provide each with a one-off grant of $3,000.  Expenditure for implementing this measure will be $1.5 billion.

Tin Shui Wai Community

163. The challenges facing the Tin Shui Wai community have become a matter of public concern.  With the concerted efforts of various government departments, we have already taken a number of actions.  We will introduce further measures to help the residents in need, including:

(a) Setting up an integrated community centre for mental wellness;

(b) Providing land for long-term commercial or hotel development;

(c) Launching a two-year pilot scheme whereby chronically ill persons can be provided with private clinic services for the same fee as that charged by clinics under the Hospital Authority; and

(d) Constructing a general out-patient clinic in Tin Shui Wai North, and considering building a hospital in the district.

(To be continued)

Ends/Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Issued at HKT 12:26


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