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LCQ2: Provision of financial assistance for the elderly
     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and an oral reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (January 10):
     At present, applicants may receive only one of the various allowances including Old Age Allowance (OAA), Disability Allowance (DA) and Old Age Living Allowance) under the Social Security Allowance Scheme. Regarding the provision of financial assistance for the elderly, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it will consider lowering the age threshold for receiving the non-means tested OAA from 70 to 65, so as to alleviate the economic pressure on the elderly people below 70; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) of the respective numbers of elderly people aged 70 or above who received Normal Disability Allowance (NDA) and Higher Disability Allowance in each of the past five years, and the annual expenditures, as estimated by the Government, that will be incurred respectively if OAA is also disbursed to them concurrently; and
(3) given that NDA is currently pitched at $1,695 per month only, but quite a number of elderly recipients of NDA are in financial straits and have to meet huge medical expenses, whether the Government will enhance the financial assistance for them, such as increasing the amount of DA, and allowing them to concurrently receive OAA, which is pitched at $1,325 per month?
     The current social security system, comprising the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme and the allowances under the Social Security Allowance (SSA) Scheme, including the Old Age Allowance (OAA), Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), Disability Allowance (DA), etc), does not require applicants' contribution and is funded by the Government's general revenue, which involves substantial public funds. In view of an ageing population, the Government has to ensure prudent use of public funds in order to provide targeted support for needy elderly persons. My reply to the Member's question is as follows:
(1) The non-means-tested OAA, currently at $1,325 per month, provides cash allowance to eligible elderly persons aged 70 or above to meet their special needs arising from old age. In the face of growing elderly population, the number of OAA beneficiaries and public funds involved would continue to increase. According to the Census and Statistics Department's projection, excluding foreign domestic helpers, the number of elderly persons aged 70 or above would increase from about 0.77 million in 2016 by over a million to 1.86 million in 2036. In 2066, the number of elderly persons aged 70 or above is projected to reach 2.18 million, which is about three times of that in 2016. Having considered the sustainability of the social security system, the Government has no plan to lower the age requirement of OAA.
     In recent years, the Government has implemented a number of targeted measures to support elderly persons with financial needs. For instance, the Government implemented OALA, currently at $2,565 per month, in 2013 to supplement living expenses of elderly persons aged 65 or above with financial needs. In addition, the Government relaxed the asset limits under OALA on May 1, 2017, to benefit more elderly persons with financial needs. The Government will also implement the Higher OALA in mid-2018, $3,435 per month at 2017 level, to provide further support for elderly persons with more financial needs. The payment will take retrospective effect from May 1, 2017.
(2) DA and OAA under the SSA Scheme are non-contributory and non-means-tested. Their designs have taken into account the special needs of the two respective target groups of beneficiaries. Therefore, a person cannot receive both allowances concurrently. For instance, persons with severe disabilities, regardless of age, generally require more assistance and care from others when compared to elderly persons without disabilities, and hence the rate of DA is higher than that of OAA. In addition, such arrangement is in line with the "no double benefits" rule, which ensures the sustainability of the social security system. The Government has no plan to change this rule.
     In response to the Member's request, the number of Normal DA and Higher DA recipients aged 70 or above in the past five financial years is set out in Annex.
(3) DA is provided to persons with severe disabilities, who as a result require substantial help from others to cope with daily life, to meet special needs arising from their disabling conditions. The Normal DA and Higher DA are currently at $1,695 and $3,390 per month respectively, and are disbursed based on the recipients' disabling conditions.
     Elderly persons with disabilities who have financial needs may consider applying for OALA, Higher OALA (to be implemented in mid-2018) or CSSA Scheme having regard to their circumstances and wish. In this connection, elderly persons or persons with disabilities may receive higher CSSA standard rates than able-bodied recipients based on their conditions. They are also eligible for a series of CSSA supplements and special grants. At present, the average monthly CSSA payments for singletons with disabilities and elderly singletons are at $5,866 and $6,115 respectively.
     In addition to the above-mentioned cash assistance, to alleviate the burden of medical expenses on elderly persons and their families, the Government has lowered the eligibility age for the Elderly Health Care Voucher from 70 to 65 with effect from July 1, 2017. More elderly persons are therefore receiving voucher value of $2,000 a year to use private primary care services. The medical fee waiver for public healthcare services has also been extended to OALA recipients aged 75 or above with more financial needs with effect from July 15, 2017.
     The Government will continue to monitor the implementation of various measures, and provide appropriate supports for elderly persons. Thank you, Chairman.   
Ends/Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Issued at HKT 13:19
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