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LCQ4: Low-income earners

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Lee Cheuk-yan in the Legislative Council today (July 8):


     Will the Government:

(a) list out by household size the number of non-Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) households in the fourth quarter of 2008 with at least one member who is employed and with monthly household income which is less than the median monthly CSSA payment received by CSSA households of the same size (working-poor households), as well as the age distribution of the members of the working-poor households;

(b) list out by household size the number of CSSA cases of the "low earnings" category as at the end of 2008, as well as the age distribution of the CSSA recipients concerned; and

(c) inform this Council of the measures currently in place to assist the working-poor households which are not receiving CSSA in meeting the needs of their daily lives?



(a) Under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, we usually work out relevant statistical figures based on "recognised needs" (i.e. the payment that the applicant and his/her family members are entitled to receive, including standard rates, various supplements and special grants), instead of the median CSSA payment received by the CSSA recipients.  It is considered inappropriate to use the latter because CSSA households may receive actual payments lower than the recognised needs by a certain level under different circumstances, such as CSSA payment exempted from deduction under the Disregarded Earnings, rent allowance payable by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to the Housing Authority direct.

     Based on the "recognised needs" under the CSSA scheme, the General Household Survey (GHS) conducted by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) indicates that there are 111,300 households in the fourth quarter of 2008 with monthly income less than the recognised needs of CSSA households of the corresponding size and with at least one employed household member (i.e. the so called "low-income households").  The number of members living in these households by age is at Table 1.

     With the gradual improvement in the socio-economic situation in the past few years, the number of low-income households dropped by 14% from 129,800 in the fourth quarter of 2006 to 111,300 in the fourth quarter of 2008.  Besides, the population living in the low-income households also decreased by 16% from 475,600 in the fourth quarter of 2006 to 397,700 in the fourth quarter of 2008.

     As respondents of the GHS may not be willing to disclose whether they are CSSA recipients, C&SD is unable to ascertain whether the above low-income households are receiving CSSA or not.

(b) According to SWD, there were about 14,000 low earnings CSSA cases as at end-2008,involving some 53,300 recipients.  The number of eligible household members of these cases by age is at Table 2.

     Similar to the situation in paragraph (a) above, owing to the improvement in the economy, the number of low earnings CSSA cases also decreased by 16% from 16,643 cases (64,580 recipients) as at end-2006 to 14,026 cases (53,340 recipients) as at end-2008.

(c) The Government attaches great importance to the needs of the low-income earners.  At present, the CSSA Scheme provides a safety net for the poor, unemployed and low-income earners.  For those non-CSSA low-income earners, the Government also provides plenty of free or highly subsidised services in various policy areas, such as housing, medical and education etc., with a view to assisting them to meet the basic needs of their daily lives.  For instance:

(i) on housing, the Government has a long established public housing policy to provide those low-income families who cannot afford private housing with accommodation at an affordable rent.  Rental allowance is also provided to needy low-income families.

(ii) on medical services, the Government has been providing heavily subsidised public healthcare services.  Low-income earners and their families can also apply for assistance from the medical fee waiver system administered by the Hospital Authority or the Department of Health, as well as the Samaritan Fund, to pay for the medical expenses.

(iii) on education, the Government has launched the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme since the 2007-08 school year, and has offered 12-year free education starting from the 2008-09 school year.  On the other hand, the Education Bureau has earmarked a recurrent provision of $75 million per annum since 2005-06 to introduce the School-based After-school Learning and Support Programme, with a view to supporting schools and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to organise suitable activities for students who come from poor families or whose parents are not able to afford their extra-curricular activities.  These measures have greatly reduced the educational expenses of the low-income families.

     The Government has also rolled out other supportive measures to assist low-income earners to enter into the labour market, including:

(i) the Labour Department (LD), through formulating various employment programmes, assists those who may face greater difficulties in employment (including the youth, middle-aged and persons with disabilities) to seek suitable jobs.  LD also organises various types of job fairs to help job seekers to seek employment.

(ii) the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) endeavours to provide training and retraining programmes for people with low education levels so as to improve their employability and competitiveness.  In 2009-10, ERB plans to provide about 123,000 training places and is prepared to offer an additional 20,000 training places when necessary.  About 60% of these training places are for placement-tied courses, the employment rate of which reaches 80%.

     Moreover, ERB set up a pilot one-stop Training cum Employment Resources Centre in October 2008 to provide more convenient training and job matching services for people in need.

(iii) through subsidising NGOs, SWD provides diversified child care and after-school care services for parents who cannot take care of their children temporarily because of work or other reasons.  The Government announced in the Budget last year to allocate additionalfunding of $45 million in the subsequent three years to promote different forms of, and more flexible, child care services.  To this end, SWD launched the Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project in October 2008 to provide, in addition to regular services, more flexible child care services for the needy parents.  Parents encountering financial difficulties and in need of child care or after-school care services can apply for service assistance or fee waiver.

     We understand that low-income families face much greater financial hardship owing to inflation and the outbreak of the global financial tsunami.  In this regard, the Chief Executive and the Financial Secretary introduced a number of relief measures both last year and this year to help the people, especially the grassroots, to tide over the economic adversities.  Apart from extra payments to the Old Age Allowance and Disability Allowance recipients, there were measures focusing on the needs of the low-income earners, for example:

(i) paying the rent for public housing tenants for 5 months in total;

(ii) providing a one-off grant of $1,000 both last year and this year to students receiving CSSA or Student Financial Assistance to meet expenses on the commencement of school term;

(iii) providing $3,600 electricity subsidy to each residential electricity account;

(iv) injecting $6,000 to the Mandatory Provident Fund accounts of low-income employees;

(v) allocating a sum of $100 million for providing short-term food assistance to poor families in need; and

(vi) allowing people with financial difficulties to extend the student loan repayment period.

Ends/Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Issued at HKT 15:03


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