FS promotes a caring society in his Budget

     The Financial Secretary, Mr John C Tsang, has placed promoting a caring society at the centre of his Budget announced today (February 24).

     Mr Tsang said recurrent expenditure on education, healthcare and social welfare would increase to around $130 billion in the 2010-2011 financial year, accounting for some 56 per cent of total recurrent expenditure.

     "With economic development, we aim to build a prosperous and caring Hong Kong," Mr Tsang said.

     "Through spending in areas such as housing, healthcare and social welfare, we provide disadvantaged groups and people with difficulties with a basic safety net."

     The Financial Secretary said he would increase spending on education in the next financial year to $52.2 billion to help finance the implementation of new initiatives and assist low-income families.

     The Financial Secretary proposed increasing funding for School-based After-school Learning and Support Programmes by $100 million to $175 million.

     He also proposed a $1,000 allowance to students of low-income families to assist with school fees for the new school year.

     He also allocated $500 million as start-up capital for two initiatives to improve Internet access for students in need.

     The measures include:

     * A subsidy of $1,300 for Internet access charges to each family receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) with children studying in primary or secondary schools. A full subsidy of $1,300 or half subsidy of $650 for each family with children studying in primary or secondary schools and eligible for student financial assistance, depending on the outcome of their means test.

     * Supporting collaboration between a non-profit organisation, private service providers and community organisations to provide affordable Internet services and computer hardware to low-income families.

     Mr Tsang also earmarked $1 billion for the fifth round of the Matching Grant Scheme to foster the development of higher education.

     To upgrade proficiency in English and Chinese, the Financial Secretary proposed injecting $500 million into the Language Fund.

     He also unveiled measures to care for those most in need, including the elderly and disabled.

     These include:

     * A $160 million increase in recurrent spending to provide over 1,000 additional places in residential care homes for the elderly.

     * Earmarking $282 million in the Lotteries Fund for pilot schemes on home care for the elderly and disabled as well as a pilot Bought Place Scheme for the disabled.

     * An additional $100 million to enhance services for the disabled.

     * Injecting $200 million into the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged.

     * Enhancing support for mentally ill patients at a cost of nearly $200 million.

     Mr Tsang also proposed allocating additional funding of $500 million for "Operation Building Bright" which provides targeted assistance for homeowners in maintaining their properties.

     Including other relief proposals in this year's Budget, Mr Tsang said the Government's total spending to counter the financial tsunami since 2008 would increase from $87.6 billion to $110 billion.

     He said these measures had been effective in stimulating the economy and safeguarding social stability and people's livelihood during the financial tsunami.

     "However, I must stress that these exceptional means employed at exceptional times cannot continue for long," he said.

     "Otherwise, they will affect the health of our public finances and dampen the enthusiasm for economic progress.

     "In the long run, we must maintain fiscal discipline to ensure our children will not be burdened by our spending today. I believe this is what a responsible government should do."

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Issued at HKT 13:43