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LCQ3: Assist public to cope with inflation

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 23):


     The inflation rate in Hong Kong has continued to rise in recent months, which has an increasingly serious impact on the livelihood of the general public.  According to the figures of the Census and Statistics Department, the year-on-year rate of increase in the Composite Consumer Price Index (i.e. the underlying inflation rate) in December last year rose to 2.8%.  The Chief Executive also mentioned at last month's Question and Answer Session of this Council that it was estimated that there would be an unusual pressure of increase in inflation in the coming year, and that the Government would, when necessary, introduce various relief measures to assist the public in coping with inflation.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) the authorities' forecast of the duration of the upward trend in Hong Kong's inflation rate and various consumer prices this year;

(b) whether it knows the respective average import wholesale prices and retail prices as well as the respective rates of increase last year for imported fish, vegetables and fruits, seafood, fresh meat, chilled food, rice, flour and other non-staple food;

(c) whether the authorities will expand the scope of the Weekly Price Survey project currently undertaken by the Consumer Council, and allocate additional resources to expand the existing food bank projects; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and whether they have other measures to assist the public in coping with heated inflation;

(d) whether the authorities will consider distributing food coupons to low-income families which do not receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance so as to ensure that these grassroots have enough to eat; if they will not, how the authorities plan to meet the needs of these families; and

(e) whether the authorities will, in response to the problem of sharp rise in prices of non-staple food, allocate additional resources to the Integrated Home Care Service Teams in various districts and increase these teams' quotas for provision of meals so as to ensure that the fees for such service will remain stable and more elderly people in need can benefit from this service; if they will not, of the reasons for that?



     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin is as follows:

(a) The Government's forecast of Hong Kong's economic outlook, including the inflation projection, will be released in the 2011-12 Budget to be announced today.

(b) The monthly average wholesale prices of various imported fresh and live food items in 2010 and their year-on-year rates of change, as collected from the government wholesale markets and slaughterhouses, are set out in Annex A according to the groups listed in the question.

     Regarding the retail prices, reference can be made to the Composite Consumer Price Index (CCPI) compiled by the Census and Statistics Department, as CCPI covers more types of food and can better reflect the price movements than the retail prices of individual food items.  The CCPIs of the various food items in 2010 and their year-on-year rates of change are set out in Annex B according to the groups listed in the question.

(c) The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) allocated about $3.26 million additional funding to the Consumer Council (the Council) in September 2010, asking the Council to continue its price surveillance named "the Weekly Price Survey".  This seeks to survey the prices of food items and daily necessities available for sale at various retail outlets in a designated district.  The objectives are to enhance the transparency of prices and facilitate the flow of market information.  Since September 2010, the number of items surveyed has increased from around 40 to more than 45, covering fresh food items available for sale in the wet markets as well.

     Besides, CEDB allocated about $0.37 million to the Council in September 2010 for the latter to continue a service named "Internet Price Watch", which compares, on each working day, the prices of more than 500 items of goods available for sale in four online stores.

     On food assistance services, up to the end of 2010, the five short-term food assistance service projects operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) commissioned by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) had provided food assistance to about 41 700 people.  As the utilisation of the projects was stable in the past year and there was no significant increase in service demand, SWD estimates that the existing funding will be able to support the projects' operation up to 2013.  SWD will continue to closely monitor the service demand.

     We understand the impact of inflation on the daily lives of people, and will formulate corresponding strategies and relevant measures according to the situation.

(d) Starting from February 2009, people who are not on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and who have proven difficulty coping with daily food expenditure may benefit from the Government-funded short-term food assistance service projects.  At the same time, the Government also supports other NGOs in providing food assistance services on their own.  The Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged also provides subsidy for NGOs to run similar projects in collaboration with the business sector.  These organisations mainly provide dried ration and canned food to the recipients.  Individual organisations also give out food coupons, cooked food, etc. when needed.

(e) At present, the Integrated Home Care Services (IHCS) teams in all districts are funded under the Lump Sum Grant Subvention System.  Under the system, the Government adjusts annually the amount of subvention granted to the operating organisations concerned based on the Government-wide Price Adjustment Factor; and changes in food prices are taken into account.  Also, the operating organisations may flexibly deploy the funding according to the actual circumstances so as to meet changing service needs.  In fact, the fees charged on users of IHCS have never been increased since the launch of IHCS in 2003.

     In addition, the Government is planning to substantially increase the number of places for the Enhanced Home and Community Care Support Service so that more elders in need can use it.

Ends/Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:16


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