LCQ19: Welfare benefits received by new arrivals

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (April 6):

Question :

     At present, mainland people may apply to the mainland authorities for a Permit for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao (One-way Permit or OWP) to settle in Hong Kong on grounds of "family reunion".  The current daily OWP quota is 150.  Recently, it has been reported that quite a number of Hong Kong people are worried that the fiscal reserves of Hong Kong may be exhausted by the people who have arrived and settled in Hong Kong (new immigrants) continuously receiving welfare benefits in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current number of new immigrants who have resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years;

(b) among the new immigrants who have resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years at present, of the respective numbers of those who have been granted Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) at the discretion of the Director of Social Welfare (DSW), and those who have been allocated public rental housing flats through compassionate rehousing by DSW; the percentage of such numbers in the total number of new immigrants who have resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years at present;

(c) of the average monthly standard rate for each recipient in (b) who has been granted CSSA at DSW's discretion; and among these CSSA recipients, the respective numbers and percentages of those who have and those who do not have paid jobs; and

(d) of the total expenditure incurred in each of the past three years on granting CSSA payments to new immigrants who had resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years; the percentages of such payments in relation to the fiscal reserves in the respective years; whether the authorities have estimated if the relevant expenditure will exhaust our fiscal reserves; if the fiscal reserves will be exhausted, in how many years this will happen?



     My reply to the four parts of the question raised by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che is set out below:

(a) We understand that immigrants from the Mainland residing in Hong Kong in the question refer to those who arrived in Hong Kong with One-way Permits (OWPs).  In the seven years preceding end-February 2011, a total of 314 437 persons arrived in Hong Kong with OWPs.

(b) Applicants for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) aged 18 or above must have been a Hong Kong resident for at least seven years.  In exceptional circumstances, the Director of Social Welfare (Director) can exercise discretion to grant CSSA to a person who does not meet the above requirement.  According to the information supplied by the recipients, of the CSSA recipients who had resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years as at end-February 2011, there were, regardless of nationality, altogether 17 621 recipients whose place of origin was Mainland China.  The Social Welfare Department (SWD), however, does not keep record of whether these recipients arrived at Hong Kong with OWPs, and whether their CSSA applications were approved at the Director's discretion.  For this reason, we are unable to calculate the percentage of persons arriving in Hong Kong with OWPs who were granted CSSA at the Director's discretion in the past seven years.

     According to the requirement of the Housing Department (HD), at least half of the family members included in a public rental housing (PRH) application must have lived in Hong Kong for seven years and are still living in Hong Kong at the time of allocation.  In the past seven financial years (up to end-February 2011), there were 585 Compassionate Rehousing cases in relation to exemption of the above PRH residence requirement which were recommended by SWD to HD for early admission to PRH.

(c) The CSSA Scheme adopts a household approach in the calculation and payment of different types of assistance.  SWD does not compile statistics on the average standard rates with breakdown by the background of individual recipients (including their place of origin).

     Of the 17 621 CSSA recipients mentioned in part (b) above, 7 405 were aged below 15 and therefore were not subject to the work requirements under the CSSA Scheme.  Of the remaining 10 216 recipients, 2 963 (29%) had paid jobs and 7 253 (71%) did not.  SWD does not have separate figures on how many CSSA applications from these recipients were approved at the Director's discretion.

(d) The amounts of CSSA payment to recipients who had resided in Hong Kong for less than seven years were about $1.02 billion, $870 million and $640 million respectively in each of the three financial years starting from 2008-09.  SWD does not have separate figures on the payment to those whose place of origin was Mainland China and who were granted CSSA by the Director on a discretionary basis.

     The fiscal reserves should be sufficient to meet daily operational requirements, and to provide adequate resources for coping with fiscal pressure arising from unfunded liabilities, economic downturns and unforeseen events, or structural changes in the community.  CSSA is only part of Government expenditure.  It is therefore not appropriate to compare CSSA expenditures with the fiscal reserves.

Ends/Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:40