Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Email this article
LCQ5: Support for the low-income employees

Following is a question by Hon Leung Che-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (July 10):


     The "Poverty Analysis (1st half of 2012)" published by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service showed that the number of working-poor households in the first half of 2012 was as high as 200 000, or an increase by 15 000 households from that of 2011, reflecting that the problem of working poverty was deteriorating. It is learnt that many overseas countries or regions have adopted measures to support their low-income households. For example, the Taiwanese Government provides living allowances to households in poverty of different amounts according to their income levels, and those low-income households with children will receive a larger sum of allowances. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the dedicated measures currently taken by the Government to support the working-poor households, whether it has reviewed the effectiveness of such measures and the number of beneficiaries, and how it will improve such measures;

(b) why the Government does not follow the practices of other countries or regions in providing low-income households with living allowances; and

(c) whether, apart from the existing Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, the Government will consider improving the second-level safety net, including changing the subsidy provided under the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme to direct living allowance for low-income households; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My response to Hon Leung Che-cheung's question is set out below:

(a) The implementation of Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW) since May 1, 2011 has been smooth. The overall employment market has remained stable and the employment earnings of low-income employees have continued to improve notably. Based on the latest statistics for the period of February to April 2013, the average monthly employment earnings of low-income (i.e. the lowest decile group) full-time employees registered a year-on-year increase of 8.7 per cent (or an increase of 4 per cent after discounting inflation) while the average monthly employment earnings of all full-time employees increased moderately by 1.9 per cent.  The SMW rate was adjusted upwards from $28 to $30 on May 1 this year and some 210 000 low-paid employees would be covered according to the data of the 2012 Annual Earnings and Hours Survey.  The Administration will continue to closely monitor the implementation of SMW and the Minimum Wage Commission has commenced a further study of the SMW rate.

     In addition, the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme provides a safety net for those who cannot support themselves financially. It is designed to bring their income up to a prescribed level to meet their basic needs.  The total CSSA caseload at the end of May this year stood at 266 510, with a total of 412 220 recipients. Among the total caseload, about 10 000 of them were under low-income category. The CSSA Scheme, to a certain extent, provides low-income supplement to these CSSA recipients in active employment.

     The Government introduced the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS) Scheme in 2011 to help low-income earners (including CSSA beneficiaries) reduce their cost of travelling to and from work and encourage them to secure or stay in employment. As at July 8, 2013, the WITS Scheme granted subsidy totalling $346 million to over 44 600 applicants. Starting from the claim months of 2013, the Scheme provides the option of individual application as an alternative to household application (i.e. the commonly known "dual track" approach), and the income and asset limits for WITS have been relaxed in parallel. Individual-based applicants may start applying this month at the earliest for subsidy from January to June this year. Over 1 800 individual applications have been received as at July 8, 2013. These measures would definitely benefit more needy low-income employed persons and thus help further alleviate working poverty.
     For those low-income working households not on CSSA, the Government also puts in place various recurrent assistance schemes to suit their needs. In addition, the Community Care Fund has launched various assistance programmes, the majority of which provide support to low-income working households.

(b) and (c) We notice that various individuals and community groups have suggested that the Government consider providing low-income households with living allowances, with the WITS-based approach being one of the options. The proposal involves major policy and resource considerations, and as such must be handled with care. We are keeping an open mind on the issue and will listen carefully to the views from various sectors of the community.

     The Commission on Poverty had an initial discussion on the issue at its meeting in May 2013 and will continue to explore the subject.

     In addition, after the Government Economist has completed the analysis on the social, economic and housing characteristics of the population below the poverty line, we will have a better understanding of the characteristics of low-income working households. These data will help us identify those low-income working households which may need further support from the Government. This will enable the Government to introduce targeted measures to prevent and alleviate poverty.

Ends/Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:52


Print this page