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LCQ1: Food assistance to low-income people

    Following is an oral reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Chan Yuen-han on food assistance to low-income people in the Legislative Council today (May 7):


    It has been reported that inflation has been very serious in recent months and lots of things are getting more and more expensive, with the rise in food prices being the most acute. Many grass-roots people are forced to buy less food or buy food products of poorer quality so as to cut their expenses on food. Such a situation has even affected the quality of meal services provided by social welfare organisations. Moreover, lunches and fruits supplied to students have also been affected. Some lunch suppliers for schools have indicated that they will increase lunch prices in the next school year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it will:

(a)  make reference to the practice of Singapore, the United States and other countries and issue food coupons to low-income people;

(b)  subsidise the lunch expenses of poor students; and

(c)  formulate measures and provide subvention to encourage non-governmental organisations to set up "community food banks" in various districts to provide emergency assistance on basic food to low-income people and families not on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance?


Madam President,

    The Government has all along cared for the needs of the disadvantaged and low-income group and tried to provide them with appropriate support.  A series of initiatives has been included in this year's Budget to alleviate the pressure arising from inflation on the grass-root level.  For instance, a subsidy of $1,800 will be provided for each residential electricity account, rates for the whole year will be waived and one month's rent for lower income families living in the rental units of the Housing Society (HS) and the Housing Authority (including tenants of Elderly Person's Flat in the Group B estates of the HS) will be paid by the Government.

    In addition, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients will be given one additional month of standard rate payments and Disability Allowance recipients will be given one additional month of allowance.  Each Old Age Allowance recipient will be given a one-off grant of $3,000.  We will adjust the CSSA standard payment rates ahead of the normal schedule in accordance with the existing mechanism around the middle of this year.  Upon approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, we will implement the aforementioned proposals as soon as possible.

    My replies to the specific questions are set out below:

(a)  In our view, the provision of one additional month of CSSA standard rate payments and the adjustment to CSSA standard payment rates ahead of the normal schedule would be more direct and provide social security recipients (including low-income CSSA households) with the flexibility in purchasing goods and services required.

(b)  The principle of according priority treatment to the needs of our children has been well embedded in the CSSA Scheme.  Under the CSSA Scheme, able-bodied children are provided with higher standard rates (from $1,330 to $2,010 per month) than other able-bodied adults (from $1,200 to $1,675 per month).  They are also provided with a range of special grants to meet their school-related expenses.  CSSA children who are full-time students and have to take lunch away from home are entitled to an additional monthly meal allowance of $200 to meet the additional expenses.  The allowance concerned will be adjusted in accordance with the Social Security Assistance Index of Prices.  In addition, we will adjust the allowance ahead of the normal schedule in accordance with the existing mechanism around the middle of this year.

(c)  At present, there are non-governmental and local organisations in the community providing temporary in-kind food assistance to assist individuals and families in need. Their target clients include street sleepers, individuals/families who are of low income or in poverty, single parent families, new arrivals, and individuals/families in need of emergency relief due to unexpected incidents.  The relevant organisations which offer food assistance usually operate their services without Government subvention.

    Social Welfare Department (SWD) will give its support when these organisations apply for premises managed by the Housing Department at concessionary rents for the provision of relevant services.  Relevant organisations may also apply to SWD for rent and rate subsidy for the provision of relevant services provided they meet the eligibility criteria and pass the financial and service assessment.  Among the service units of the SWD, 20 (including 14 Integrated Family Service Centres) have established a partnership network with the Food Bank operated by St. James' Settlement, and they have helped expand the food distribution network for those in need.  SWD will consider further expanding the existing network if necessary.

    SWD will refer those community members and business organisations offering to make donations to the relevant Food Bank(s).

    Besides, individuals or families in need may, at any time, seek assistance from the Integrated Family Service Centre under the SWD/non-governmental organisations or the Medical Social Service Unit.  The social workers will, according to the merits and need of individual cases, render appropriate assistance to the individuals or families concerned such as applying for charitable trust fund to relieve their temporary financial hardship.

    Lastly, people who cannot support themselves financially (including low-income groups) may apply for the CSSA to meet their basic daily needs.  Through cash allowance, the CSSA safety net allows the recipients to flexibly use the CSSA payment to meet their basic living expenses.

Ends/Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Issued at HKT 12:45


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