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Commission on Poverty convenes ninth meeting

     The Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, chaired the ninth meeting of the Commission on Poverty (CoP) this afternoon (January 27). The discussion focused on the details of the Low Income Working Family Allowance (LIFA) put forward by the Chief Executive in the 2014 Policy Address.  

     When briefing members about LIFA, Mrs Lam thanked members for their valuable comments in the CoP meetings held in May and November last year.  With reference to members' suggestions, she emphasised that LIFA not only provides assistance to non-Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) working families, but also families with income slightly above the poverty line.  It has the dual purposes of preventing and alleviating poverty.

     Members welcomed the LIFA which provides targeted assistance to working families who are living below or at the fringe of poverty line and who are striving to make ends meet through their own means. They also praised the Administration for incorporating suggestions from various bodies and persons when designing the LIFA.

     In the meeting, members expressed their views on the details of the LIFA. For target beneficiaries, members agreed that a beneficiary family must have two or more members, with at least one in employment. If the applicant family has eligible children, the family will receive an extra child allowance. To ensure proper use of public funds, members also agreed that the applicant family must pass an asset test, which largely follows the less stringent asset limit of application for public rental housing. When it comes to income limit, members basically agreed to introduce a two-tier system based on the applicant's household income (i.e. at or below 50 per cent of the monthly median domestic household income (MMDHI), and between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of the MMDHI). Members also agreed to pitching the allowances at the suggested levels and imposing no residence requirement on applicants so as to encourage them to take up jobs.

     Regarding the working hour requirement, members agreed that there should be at least one family member working full time (i.e. meeting the working hour requirement of 144 hours per month). As to whether the higher working hour requirement should be set at 208 hours to reward those who work harder, there were diverging views. Some members opined that the proposed level is reasonable and that currently some full-time working members of low-income families can already meet the requirement. However, some held the view that level of 208 working hours is too high.  Some suggested counting the working hours of another working member so as to assess whether the 208-hour requirement is met to encourage a second family member to take up employment. Meanwhile, members agreed that the working hour requirement for single-parent households be lowered to 36 and 72 hours respectively.

Members also looked at the interface between LIFA and other major government assistance schemes (especially the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS)).  Questions such as whether the WITS and LIFA should be mutually exclusive and how the WITS should be taken into account in the income assessment need to be further explored.  

     Members agreed to further deliberate on the operational details of the scheme at a later date.

     Mrs Lam said that the Government would make reference to views expressed by members and would continue to listen to suggestions expressed by the community on the LIFA. The Government would seek funding approval from the Legislative Council with a view to implementing the scheme next year.

Ends/Monday, January 27, 2014
Issued at HKT 21:57


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