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Budget Speech by the Financial Secretary (8)

Caring for People's Livelihood

110. Social welfare, education and medical services are the major spenders of public resources.  In 2013-14, estimated recurrent expenditure in these three areas will approach $170 billion, or 60 per cent of recurrent government expenditure.  This is an increase of $55.1 billion, or 50 per cent, compared with 2007-08.  I have already covered the Government's plans to invest in education and optimise human capital.  I shall now focus on the major initiatives in social welfare, healthcare services and environmental protection.

Enhancing Social Welfare

111. We have been investing heavily in regular welfare programmes and services, covering major areas such as the provision of social security assistance, support for the elderly, persons with disabilities, families, children and young people, and the promotion of women's interests.  In 2013-14, our recurrent expenditure on social welfare is estimated to reach $56 billion, an increase of 31 per cent over that for last year.

Elderly Services

112. The elderly are the major beneficiaries of social security payments.  To enhance the quality of life for elderly people aged 65 or above who are in need of financial support, we shall start making payments for the Old Age Living Allowance this April.  The new allowance, involving an additional allocation of about $8.3 billion (Note 1) in 2013-14, is expected to benefit more than 400 000 elderly people.

113. On elderly care services, the five new or improved measures coming on stream in 2013-14 include:

(a) allocating $380 million from the Lotteries Fund to launch the first phase of the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly this September.  By adopting the "money follows the user" approach in the provision of assistance, eligible elderly people under the Pilot Scheme can choose the community care services that suit their individual needs;

(b) allocating additional recurrent funding of $9 million to add 100 day care places and extend the service hours of new day care centres and units for the elderly;

(c) increasing recurrent funding by $73 million for the additional provision of some 600 subsidised residential care places for the elderly through the construction of three contract residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs), purchase of additional EA1 places under the Enhanced Bought Places Scheme and making better use of space in subvented homes.  Together with those subsidised residential care places with funding earmarked earlier, 2 300 additional subsidised residential care places will be provided from 2012-13 to 2015-16;

(d) allocating additional recurrent funding of $164 million to increase the subvention for 7 000 residential care places with continuum of care by ten per cent, so that RCHEs can provide more targeted services for the elderly, and to upgrade 7 850 ordinary residential care places in subvented RCHEs to places with continuum of care; and

(e) allocating $160 million in the five-year period from 2013-14 for the Social Welfare Department to organise ten more classes of two-year full-time Enrolled Nurse Training Programmes for the welfare sector to cope with the expansion of residential care services.  The Programmes will provide more than 1 200 training places to augment the enrolled nurses supply to meet manpower demand in the welfare sector.

Rehabilitation Services for Persons with Disabilities

114. Recurrent expenditure on rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities in the coming year will reach $4.4 billion.  New services will be introduced in 2013-14 in the following five areas:

(a) allocating additional recurrent funding of $35.6 million to strengthen the care and training for persons with disabilities by providing 145 new places each for residential and day training services;

(b) allocating additional recurrent funding of $67.9 million to increase the manpower of residential care homes and day training centres for persons with disabilities to meet the needs of ageing service users;

(c) allocating additional recurrent funding of $203 million to regularise the home care service for persons with severe disabilities and extend the home-based care services to all districts to cover persons with severe disabilities who are living in the community, regardless of whether they are on the waiting lists for places in subsidised residential care homes;

(d) allocating additional recurrent funding of $4.8 million to enhance vocational rehabilitation services and employment support by increasing the 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"; and

(e) allocating an additional funding of $5.9 million to acquire six additional buses, thereby increasing the fleet size of Rehabus to 135, to better meet the special transport needs of persons with disabilities.

Supporting Poverty Alleviation

115. The Community Care Fund was established by the Government in early 2011.  With the Government's $5 billion injection into the Fund and donations from the business sector, the Fund has launched a total of 18 programmes to offer appropriate time-limited assistance to over 100 000 people in need, including those not covered by the Government's safety net.

116. I propose to inject an additional $15 billion into the Fund.  This, together with the original $5 billion government injection, is expected to generate an annual investment return of over $1 billion.  I believe that the Commission on Poverty (CoP) will make effective use of this injection to renew its efforts to alleviate poverty by plugging the gaps in the existing system, and continue to implement and enhance those programmes that have proved to be effective but have yet to be incorporated into the Government's regular assistance and service programmes.  It will also introduce new assistance programmes or pioneer projects.

Enhancing Mandatory Provident Fund System

117. The Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF), which has been in place for 12 years, is one of the three pillars of the existing retirement protection system.  We are now working with the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority (MPFA) on short, medium and long-term fee reduction measures.  They include promoting electronic platforms, consolidating employees' accounts, and rationalising the types and numbers of MPF funds in order to reduce the administration costs.  Meanwhile, we aim to cut down the fees and charges by maximising market forces.  The MPFA is preparing proposals regarding the implementation of a cap on MPF fees that will be introduced in case of market failure.  We intend to consult the public within this year.

118. In the past few months, there have been considerable discussions on retirement protection.  The Social Security and Retirement Protection Task Force under the CoP will study this complicated issue in depth.  I hope that the community will explore the issue in a rational, pragmatic and prudent manner and with due regard to the sustainability of public finances and the possible financial pressure on our future generations.

Reinforcing Healthcare Services

119. The recurrent expenditure on medical and health services for 2013-14 will reach $49 billion, an increase of $2.7 billion over 2012-13.  The bulk of the additional funding is for new recurrent allocation to the Hospital Authority (HA) to enhance and expand appropriate public medical services.

120. To cope with the ever-increasing demand for medical services, the HA will add 290 acute patient beds and convalescent beds, and increase the quota at general out-patient clinics for patients with episodic diseases in the coming year.  The HA will also refine the waiting list management of specialist out-patient clinics to shorten the waiting time for such services.  On elderly medical services, the HA will strengthen the treatment of degenerative diseases to meet the service demands of an ageing population.

121. The Government is committed to promoting mental health and has in recent years introduced various initiatives to enhance community support for mental patients with a view to facilitating their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.  To enhance community support for patients with severe mental illness, the HA launched the Case Management Programme in April 2010, which now covers 12 districts.  Since its launch, the Programme has provided intensive and personalised community support for over 11 000 mental patients.  The HA will roll out the Programme to three more districts in 2013-14 and achieve full coverage in the coming two years.  Additional funding of $12.5 million will be allocated to the Social Welfare Department to increase the staff resources of the Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness to dovetail with the HA's Programme.  Also, we plan to use $8 billion to redevelop Kwai Chung Hospital to strengthen care and support for mental patients.

122. In the next financial year, we shall allocate an additional $44 million to include in the HA Drug Formulary two chemotherapeutic drugs for cancer treatment and expand the application of two special drugs for patients with advanced Parkinson's disease and cancer.  Following the injection of $10 billion into the Samaritan Fund by the Government last year, the financial assessment criteria for drug subsidies were relaxed last September to benefit more patients in need.

Promoting Environmental Protection and Conservation

123. Environmental protection and conservation is one of the major policy areas in the Policy Address.  Improving the environment is vital to the sustainable development of Hong Kong, for which we need the shared commitment of both the community and the Government.  Our next priority will be to improve roadside air quality.

124. In his Policy Address, the Chief Executive proposed setting aside $10 billion as subsidies, coupled with regulatory measures, to progressively phase out heavily polluting pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles.  I have already earmarked resources for this proposal on which the Environment Bureau is now consulting this Council, the relevant transport trades and other stakeholders.

125. The Chief Executive also proposed in his Policy Address to inject $5 billion into the Environment and Conservation Fund to provide support for green projects initiated by the community.  I have made a provision for the Fund to further enhance public awareness of environmental protection, conduct related scientific research, and encourage public participation in environmental protection activities.

Note 1: The additional allocation covers the allowance payments from December last year to March this year.

(To be continued)

Ends/Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:21


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