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FS tables array of measures to build a caring and sharing society
     In his 2018-19 Budget today (February 28), the Financial Secretary, Mr Paul Chan, outlined a variety of initiatives to improve elderly and rehabilitation services, support the disadvantaged, care for the young, strengthen support for ethnic minorities and promote opportunities for job seekers with special employment needs. He also detailed a raft of measures to reduce the tax burden on individuals and to share the fruits of Hong Kong's economic success with the community.
     "I will make optimal use of our resources to cater for those in need, with the aim to build a caring and sharing society," said Mr Chan in delivering his second Budget Speech.
     Mr Chan remarked that last October's Policy Address had put forward a host of measures to improve elderly services, involving a recurrent provision of about $1,263 million and non-recurrent expenditure of some $2,229 million in the 2018-19 financial year.
     The measures include boosting the number of vouchers under the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly; providing professional outreach and visiting medical practitioner services for residents of private residential care homes for the elderly; establishing an Innovation and Technology Fund for Application in Elderly and Rehabilitation Care; and upping the salaries of front-line care staff in subsidised elderly service units.
     In addition, the Financial Secretary pledged about $63 million to provide speech therapy services for elderly service units, benefiting some 22 000 elderly persons with swallowing difficulties or speech impairment. 
     To expand rehabilitation services, Mr Chan allocated $660 million for a variety of initiatives. These range from adding 2,469 subvented rehabilitation service places to strengthening relevant services for persons with disabilities, mentally handicapped persons, ex-mentally ill persons and persons with autism.
     The Government will provide an additional annual provision of some $92 million to strengthen manpower for residential child care services. It will also set up five centres for separated or divorced families and bolster the manpower to help in the early identification of and more effective intervention in families at risk of separation or divorce. The additional recurrent provision involved will be around $56 million.
     The Financial Secretary said it was "sad to see several child abuse cases" in recent months. In response, he said he would allocate more than $500 million from the Lotteries Fund to launch a three-year pilot scheme, which will provide social work services for about 150,000 children and their families in aided child care centres, kindergartens and combined kindergarten-and-child care centres.
     Mr Chan said, "More resources will be provided for public sector primary schools to encourage them to strengthen and enhance their social work and counselling services." In addition, he provided recurrent expenditure of some $43 million to boost the resources of the Social Welfare Department's Family and Child Protective Services Units and the workforce of non-governmental organisations supporting the Educational Programme on Stopping Domestic Violence. The Government will also increase resources to support disadvantaged children youths.
     To strengthen support for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, Mr Chan pledged $500 million. He added that the Chief Secretary for Administration would set up a steering committee to co-ordinate government efforts in this area.
     The Financial Secretary promised additional annual funding of $48 million to enhance the Labour Department's special employment programmes and to encourage employers to hire people with special employment needs.
     Reducing the tax burden on individuals is central to Mr Chan's "caring and sharing" Budget. In this regard, he proposed the following measures, to take effect beginning in the year of assessment 2018-19:
* Widening the salaries tax bands to $50,000 from the current $45,000, increasing the number of tax bands from four to five and adjusting the marginal tax rates to 2 per cent, 6 per cent, 10 per cent, 14 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. The measures will reduce the tax burden of 1.34 million taxpayers;

* Increasing the basic and additional child allowances from the current $100,000 to $120,000, benefiting 335 000 taxpayers;

* Increasing the allowances for maintaining a dependent parent or grandparent, which will benefit about 607 000 taxpayers;

* Increasing the deduction ceiling for elderly residential care expenses from the current $92,000 to $100,000; and

* Introducing a personal disability allowance of $75,000 for eligible taxpayers.

     As for the abolition of the MPF "offsetting" arrangement, Mr Chan said the Government was working to introduce a proposal more acceptable to both employers and employees. He added that the Government was willing to increase its financial commitment and that he would set aside $15 billion for this purpose.
     Noting Hong Kong's "substantial fiscal surplus this year", Mr Chan introduced a variety of initiatives to share the fruits of economic success with the community. The measures include:
* Reducing salaries tax and tax under personal assessment for 2017-18 by 75 per cent, subject to a ceiling of $30,000. This will benefit 1.88 million taxpayers;

* Reducing profits tax for 2017-18 by 75 per cent, subject to a ceiling of $30,000, benefiting 142 000 taxpayers;

*Waiving rates for the four quarters of 2018-19, subject to a ceiling of $2,500 per quarter for each rateable property;

* Providing an extra allowance to social security recipients, equal to two months of standard rate Comprehensive Social Security Assistance payments, Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance or Disability Allowance. This will involve an additional expenditure of about $7 billion. Similar arrangements will apply to recipients of Low-income Working Family Allowance and Work Incentive Transport Subsidy, involving an additional expenditure of about $379 million. The Government will also invite the Community Care Fund to consider providing short-term relief for low-income households not living in public housing and not receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (commonly known as the "N have-nots households");

* Providing a one-off grant of $2,000 to each student in need to support learning. This will entail expenditure of about $740 million; and

* paying the examination fees for candidates sitting for the 2019 Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, involving an expenditure of about $180 million.
Ends/Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:46
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