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2013 Policy Address by Chief Executive (4)

IV. A Caring Society and a Home to the People

Poverty Alleviation

Guiding Principle

92. While Hong Kong is a generally affluent society, there are still many people who live a hand-to-mouth existence.  We must recognise poverty as a real problem, understand the problem's nature, and formulate specific and feasible policy measures to alleviate it.  Our aim is to help underprivileged people capable of working by offering them opportunities to become self-reliant and improve their livelihood.  Public resources should be devoted to those who cannot provide for themselves.  A welfare policy underpinned by heavy taxation is not a viable option, taking into account the economic structure and mode of social development in Hong Kong.

Commission on Poverty

93. The Government reinstated the Commission on Poverty (CoP) a few months ago to combat poverty.  Poverty alleviation will be carried out at three levels.  I will chair the annual Poverty Summit to set the directions and reinforce the over-arching strategies.  The Chief Secretary for Administration will chair the CoP and co-ordinate specific measures.  The six task forces underpinning the CoP will look into specific areas and draw up appropriate policies and measures to tackle the problems.

94. The focus of the CoP is to develop poverty alleviation policies.  Its work includes reviewing the effectiveness of existing poverty alleviation policies, formulating new policies to prevent and alleviate both poverty and social exclusion, as well as promoting upward social mobility.  Task forces under the CoP will work on different fronts: supporting the underprivileged who have special needs; promoting education, employment and training to encourage self-reliance and better promotion prospects; and engaging the community and fostering cross-sectoral collaboration among the Government, businesses and other sectors.

Setting Poverty Line

95. The CoP has identified setting a poverty line in light of the actual situation in Hong Kong as one of its priorities.  The poverty line serves three functions: quantifying the poverty-stricken population for a focused analysis of the situation of various groups living below the poverty line; thoroughly investigating the causes of poverty and serving as a guiding reference for policy formulation so that our poverty alleviation efforts can be more effective; and assessing the effectiveness of our poverty alleviation policies against changes in the size of the poverty-stricken population.  By setting a poverty line, the current-term Government shows its will and commitment to alleviating the poverty problem.

Social Security and Retirement Protection

96. Social security and retirement protection are two recurrent themes that often appear prominently in our discussion of the poverty issue.  Regarding social security, some are concerned about the development needs of children in families receiving the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA).  Others consider that the Government should review whether the existing CSSA has struck a proper balance between providing a safety net and encouraging people capable of working to join the workforce.  There are also views that we should turn the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme into a subsidy for low-income families.  These suggestions involve major policy considerations and may have far-reaching implications on our social security system and public finance.  The Social Security and Retirement Protection Task Force under the CoP will study carefully the views from various sectors.

97. Regarding retirement protection, I suggest in my Manifesto that we should study the impact of an ageing population on our public finance, and plan ahead to deal with the issue in a timely manner.  The Government will reinforce and enhance the existing three pillars, namely, private savings and family support, the social security system, and the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) System.  The Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), to be launched in April 2013, will be an additional tier of financial assistance between the CSSA and the Old Age Allowance (OAA).  Some have proposed that the Government should review the relationship between the three types of financial assistance for the elderly, namely the CSSA, OALA and OAA.  We are also aware of views in favour of the introduction of universal retirement protection.  But there are concerns that universal retirement protection would impose a very heavy burden on the public coffers over time, and would be impractical without tax hikes.  The other option based on tripartite contribution from employers, employees and the Government is equally controversial, involving issues such as affordability and sustainability.  The Social Security and Retirement Protection Task Force will study retirement protection in depth in an open, pragmatic and prudent manner.  It will consider all views objectively and work towards a consensus in the community on how we should take forward retirement protection in Hong Kong.

98. The MPF System has a history of 12 years and is in need of continual refinement.  Many people have grave concerns over some arrangements of the MPF System, in particular its fee levels.  We will work with the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority so that a multi-pronged approach can be adopted to bring down fees and charges.

Community Care Fund

99. Since its inception, the Community Care Fund (CCF) has launched a total of 18 assistance programmes.  People outside the existing safety net or the coverage of Government's short-term relief measures have been successfully identified through these programmes and provided with appropriate assistance.  To date, more than 100 000 people have benefited under these programmes.  As shown in findings of reviews and evaluations, these programmes vary in their effectiveness.  The CCF will draw on experience gained on the ground and collect data for further studies to determine which programmes need to be revised or extended, or recommend the incorporation of proven effective measures into Government's regular assistance programme.

100. The CCF has rolled out an assistance programme to provide a subsidy for low-income persons who are inadequately housed and non-CSSA recipients.  Successful applicants will receive a one-off subsidy of $3,000 to $8,000 according to their household size.  Over 15 000 applications so far have been received.  I believe this identification mechanism can effectively reach out to those colloquially known as the "n have-nots" and facilitate the Government in launching more comprehensive and effective relief measures in future.

101. The work of the CCF has been subsumed under the CoP.  The CCF will continue to pilot different assistance programmes and trial schemes to provide necessary assistance for the disadvantaged.

Engaging the Business Sector

102. In recent years, many business people have, apart from giving donations, engaged in poverty alleviation through active involvement in community services.  They help organise community activities and work in partnership with welfare organisations to promote relevant projects.  The CoP will take reference from their successful experience in promoting more business participation.

Care for the Elderly

Ageing in Place

103. Ageing in place is the cherished wish of most elderly people.  This is in line with the family-oriented policy advocated by the Government on the welfare front.  We will strengthen our community care services, which include the launch of the first phase of the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) in September this year.  The Scheme adopts an innovative funding mode, namely the "money follows the user" approach.  Eligible elderly may choose the services that suit their individual needs with the use of service vouchers.  Moreover, we will increase day care places in the conventional funding mode and extend the service hours of new day care centres for the elderly.

Residential Care

104. We will increase the number of subsidised residential care places for the elderly through a multi-pronged approach.  In the short run, we will purchase places from private residential care homes for the elderly through the Enhanced Bought Place Scheme and make better use of space in subvented homes for provision of more subsidised places.  For the medium term, we will build new contract residential care homes to increase the number of subsidised places, particularly places providing a higher level of nursing care.  In the long run, we will identify sites for new homes.  We will explore the feasibility of incorporating residential care facilities into redevelopment projects, and convert vacant buildings into residential care homes.  From now to 2014-15, the SWD will provide over 1 700 new subsidised places.  We have also earmarked sites in 11 development projects for new contract residential care homes.

105. Elderly people suffering from chronic diseases require longer-term infirmary care and rehabilitation services.  The Hospital Authority (HA) will provide 130 additional convalescent beds and explore other modes of co-operation with the private sector in order to strengthen the infirmary care services for public hospital patients.  We will also explore the option of converting Wong Chuk Hang Hospital, which mainly provides extended care, rehabilitation and infirmary care services at present, into a care home that will provide infirmary and nursing service with more residential places.

Promoting a Sense of Worthiness among the Elderly

106. The Government will provide a convenient living environment for the elderly, and encourage them to take part in community activities and lead a fulfilled life.  We have allocated about $900 million under the Lotteries Fund to enhance the facilities and safety of all subvented elderly centres in phases over six years.  We expect the first renovated elderly centre to open next month.  We will also continue to promote a sense of worthiness among the elderly, promote harmony across generations and encourage lifelong learning through, among others, the Opportunities for the Elderly Project and the Elderly Academy Scheme.

Diversified Choices

107. We will offer elderly people more diversified choices through a wide range of new and flexible modes of subvention and service delivery.  The Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme is a case in point.  Our next step is to review the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly and explore the feasibility of adopting this voucher subsidy mode for residential care services.  We will conduct a review some time after the implementation of OALA and the Guangdong Scheme.  The latter Scheme is so designed that Hong Kong elderly people living in Guangdong will be eligible for the OAA.  Based on the findings of the review, we will explore the feasibility of allowing elderly people who choose to retire to the Mainland to receive OALA in Guangdong.

Assistance to the Frail

Services for Persons with Disabilities

108. Our rehabilitation policy seeks to assist persons with disabilities in developing their potential and to build a barrier-free environment with a view to enabling persons with disabilities to participate in full and enjoy equal opportunities both in their social life and personal growth.  These objectives are consistent with the spirit and core values enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention).  The Government has to take into full account the Convention provisions in formulating policies and implementing programmes.  To enhance co-ordination among various policy bureaux and departments in implementing the Convention, we will review the Commissioner for Rehabilitation's duties, responsibilities and ranking, as well as the establishment and manpower of his or her team.

109. In my Manifesto, I mentioned that we would allow people with loss of one limb to apply for the Disability Allowance.  The Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) is undertaking the preparatory work for the establishment of an inter-departmental working group to study this issue.

110. In my Manifesto, I also pledged to strengthen the support for persons with disabilities and families with members with disabilities.  For day training and residential care services, we will provide more service places, and identify suitable development sites as soon as possible to increase the supply.  The SWD is studying the feasibility of redeveloping the former sites of Siu Lam Hospital in Tuen Mun and Kai Nang Sheltered Workshop and Hostel in Kwun Tong into integrated rehabilitation services centres.  Subject to the findings of the technical feasibility study, these two projects can provide a total of about 2 000 places of day training and residential care services for persons with disabilities.  We will also increase the manpower for residential care homes and day training centres for persons with disabilities to enhance the care and support for elderly users of the service.

111. The SWD launched in March 2011 a three-year pilot scheme to provide a package of home-based care services for persons with severe disabilities who are living in the community and on the waiting list for subvented residential care services.  We will regularise the service in March 2014 and extend it to persons with severe disabilities in all the districts in Hong Kong, irrespective of whether they are on the waiting list for residential care services or not.

112. Furthermore, the CCF plans to roll out a new programme to subsidise persons with severe physical disabilities from low-income families in renting respiratory support medical equipment.  Meanwhile, the SWD and the HA are studying the feasibility of introducing a case management-oriented service programme to assist non-CSSA recipients with severe physical disabilities who require constant nursing care.  The programme is designed to enable them to live in the community by relieving their financial burden in terms of medical equipment, consumable items and care services.

113. To promote the employment of persons with disabilities, starting from the next financial year, we will increase job attachment allowance and wage subsidy under the On the Job Training Programme for People with Disabilities and the Sunnyway - On the Job Training Programme for Young People with Disabilities.  We will also closely monitor the impact of the statutory minimum wage on the employment of persons with disabilities.  When necessary, we will enhance the employment support measures.

114. Committed to building a barrier-free society, we are pressing full steam ahead with a comprehensive retrofitting programme for upgrading barrier-free facilities in about 3 500 government premises and facilities as well as about 240 public housing estates at a cost of $1.3 billion.  Ninety percent of such works were completed six months ago as scheduled, and the remaining projects are scheduled for completion by June next year.

115. In 2013-14, the Government will further enhance the point-to-point rehabus service to cater for the special transport needs of persons with disabilities.  We are also studying the extension of the Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Eligible Persons with Disabilities to eligible children with disabilities aged under 12.

Social Welfare Planning

116. Turning to social welfare, to meet the current and future needs of welfare services, the Government will adopt a multi-pronged approach to identify suitable sites and facilitate provision of necessary manpower resources in a pragmatic and flexible manner.

117. The departments concerned have been maintaining close communication to identify suitable sites for social welfare facilities.  We will also explore the possibility of reserving land or premises in new development projects or redevelopment projects, where appropriate, for welfare facilities.  The LWB has been discussing with social welfare organisations on how to make better use of the land owned by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) through redevelopment or expansion to provide diversified subvented and self-financing facilities.  We will proactively consider using the Lotteries Fund more flexibly and work out ways to provide targeted assistance to land owners during the planning or development process.

118. There is manpower shortage for allied health workers and frontline care staff, particularly in elderly services and rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities.  To cope with demand, we have allocated funding to increase the number of training places for nurses and allied health professionals for the three years starting from 2012-13.  The bureaux concerned will work with the welfare sector and relevant organisations to explore feasible options for retaining existing workers in and attracting new blood to the elderly services and rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities.

119. To support youth employment during the economic downturn, the Government created 3 000 temporary work opportunities under NGOs for young people aged between 15 and 29 in 2008.  Currently, about 2 600 young people are still employed in these temporary positions which are due to lapse in March this year.  I have decided to extend the temporary positions for 12 months.  The extension, at a cost of some $270 million, will allow the LWB and the NGOs concerned time to help the young participants find suitable employment.

Labour Policy

120. I attach importance to strengthening support for workers at the grassroots level, including providing the relief for their work-related travelling expenses.  After taking office, I asked the LWB to advance the mid-term review of the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme and implement enhancement measures.  The enhanced scheme with relaxed income and asset limits will allow applicants to apply on an individual or household basis to suit their circumstances.

121. The Labour Department (LD) now provides job seekers with free employment services through its 12 job centres across Hong Kong.  A new job centre will be set up in Tung Chung.  In tandem, the LD plans to enhance employment support for young people, the middle-aged and persons with disabilities.  More financial incentives will be provided for employers through the Youth Pre-employment Training Programme and Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme, the Employment Programme for the Middle-aged and the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme to encourage them to employ and provide on-the-job training to job-seekers and workers having difficulty in switching jobs.

122. I advocated paternity leave in my Manifesto.  The Labour Advisory Board has endorsed legislation for three days of paid paternity leave.  The Government hopes that legislation could be enacted as soon as possible.

Standard Working Hours

123. Employees in Hong Kong work relatively long hours in general.  Following the release of the Report of the Policy Study on Standard Working Hours by the LD last November, the LWB will set up a Special Committee on Standard Working Hours in the first quarter of this year to follow up on the study.  The Special Committee, as proposed in my Manifesto, will comprise government officials, representatives of labour unions and employers' associations, academics and community leaders.  The Government hopes that various sectors of the community can make use of the platform provided by the Special Committee to carry out informed and in-depth discussion on working hours, build consensus and identify the way forward.

Employees Retraining

124. Over the years, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) has strived to improve the employability of local workers to maintain the competitiveness of our economy.  I affirm the role and contributions of the ERB and consider that it should be provided with sustained and stable financial support as a long-term commitment to enhancing the productivity of local workers.  I have asked the Secretary for Labour and Welfare to work out the long-term financial arrangements for the ERB and submit proposals to the Financial Secretary.  Meanwhile, the Government notes that there are different views in the community on the Employees Retraining Levy imposed on employers of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs).  To ease the burden on families employing FDHs, I have decided to abolish the FDH levy when the suspension of its collection expires on 31 July 2013.  This will reduce the levy receipts of the Government by about $1.5 billion a year.

Mobilising the Community

125. I would like to pay a special tribute to all volunteers.  In 2011, our volunteers contributed more than 22 million hours to voluntary services.  Last year, the number of registered volunteers in Hong Kong passed the one million mark, proof of Hong Kong people's zeal for helping others and our commitment to building a caring society.

126. A robust social welfare system as well as timely policies and measures will be able to offer basic protection for the livelihood of people in need.  But further improvement will require more than just Government efforts.  We need to mobilise the whole community to work together to bring about social progress.

Development of Women

127. Women play an important role in the development of Hong Kong.  The proportion of women in the managerial and executive positions as well as professional occupations has grown by 6.5% and 7.7% respectively in the past 10 years.  In the public sector, the proportion of women in government advisory and statutory bodies has also increased from about 21% in 2002 to about 33% in 2012.  The figures show the rising economic and social status of women.

128. The Women's Commission (WoC) has been working proactively to enhance women's capacities, conduct public education programmes and promote the interests and well-being of women.  To encourage women to pursue lifelong learning, the Government will turn the Capacity Building Mileage Programme into a recurrent project from this year onwards.  Courses conducted in English and Putonghua will be introduced for ethnic minority and new arrival women.  The WoC has also launched this year the Funding Scheme for Women's Development to support projects which can promote women's physical and psychological wellness.  We will also consider ways to strengthen communication and collaboration with women's groups and related bodies to promote women's interests.

Youth Development

129. Young people represent our future.  Our policies should focus on creating development opportunities for them.  We should foster a culture of multi-faceted excellence that will offer abundant opportunities for young people to pursue their studies or career and realise their potential.  Our policies should also be inclusive and enable young people from different backgrounds, including new arrivals and ethnic minorities, to enhance their capabilities and broaden their horizons.  The Commission on Youth will continue to reach out to young people and assist the Government in formulating policies related to youth development and co-ordinating the efforts of different bureaux, so as to achieve policy synergy.  In collaboration with various organisations and post-secondary institutions, we will make available additional resources to provide more internship opportunities in the Mainland for our young people.  Such experience will help broaden their exposure and boost their confidence.

Ethnic Minorities

130. Many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong were born and brought up here.  Some of them are less successful in integrating into the community because they are unable to read and write Chinese.  To provide an opportunity for ethnic minority students to learn Chinese more effectively, we will enhance support measures in schools.  We hope that it will help nurture a new generation of people who call Hong Kong their home regardless of origin, race and religion.

People of Different Sexual Orientation

131. Last November, this Council discussed whether an anti-discrimination law is needed to protect people of different sexual orientation.  The society is deeply divided over this issue.  Some are in support from the perspective of equal opportunity.  Others are concerned that launching a consultation exercise may deal a blow to family, religion and education.  The Government understands that this is a highly controversial issue which must be tackled cautiously.  We will continue to listen to different views from various sectors.  At present, we have no plan to conduct consultation.

Fostering Social Integration

132. The Government has invested heavily in education and training.  But my conviction is that only through employment can those groups with special needs, including persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities, be truly integrated into the community.  I urge all employers to give these people more employment opportunities.  The Government itself will set an example.  We will work with the private sector and NGOs to provide more employment for them.  In doing so, we can unleash their potential, foster social integration, and build a caring and supportive society for all.

(To be continued)

Ends/Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:30


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