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LCQ4: Population policy
     Following is a question by the Hon Carmen Kan and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):


     There are views that faced with the trend of an ageing population and population flows, the current demographic structure in Hong Kong is quite different from the projection made in the report of "Population Policy - Strategies and Initiatives" (the Report) formulated in 2015. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has assessed if the policy objectives put forward by the Steering Committee on Population Policy in 2013 have been achieved since the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Report; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, the areas of the objectives that have not been achieved;

(2) whether it has plans to set up a high-level committee to study and update the population policy, as well as put forth a new population policy based on the data collected in the 2021 Population Census, the prevailing social circumstances and the medium-to-long term future development needs; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) apart from the existing policies, of the Government's measures in place to boost the fertility rate within a short time, such as whether it will consider introducing a progressive child tax allowance, and taking the lead in implementing family-friendly working arrangements?


Acting President,

     With the aim to "develop and nurture a population that will continuously support and drive Hong Kong's socio-economic development as Asia's world city, and to engender a socially inclusive and cohesive society that allows individuals to realise their potential, with a view to attaining quality life for all residents and families", the Government released the report on "Population Policy - Strategies and Initiatives" (the Report) in 2015. The Report set out the action agenda covering some 50 specific initiatives under various policy areas and policy bureaux, including economic development, education and training, housing, labour and welfare, immigration policy, etc.

     In response to the Member's question, I give the reply on behalf of the Government as follows:

(1) During the fourth-term HKSAR Government, all the initiatives announced in the Report had been fully implemented by relevant bureaux and departments. The relevant initiatives helped achieve the objectives set out in the Report and laid the foundation for subsequent work. The Government has not made further assessment on their effectiveness thereafter.

(2) In the 2022 Policy Address, the Chief Executive said that the world was undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. Under the challenges of the pandemic not fully under control, worsening global economic outlook, trade disputes and geopolitical tensions, etc., Hong Kong should give full play to the distinctive advantages of enjoying strong support of the Motherland and being closely connected to the world, and capitalise on our excellent conditions and grasp the huge opportunities brought about by "one country, two systems", for betterment of Hong Kong's economic and social development and people's livelihood. In light of the aforementioned analysis and assessment, the Chief Executive held on the current situation, looked forward to the future and drew up a blueprint for Hong Kong's development which extensively covered a wide range of policy initiatives. For instance, on the premise of nurturing local talents and safeguarding local employment, we will attract outside quality talents more aggressively, including the launch of the non-employment-tied Top Talent Pass Scheme to attract individuals whose annual salaries reached a certain level or graduates from the world's top 100 universities, as well as enhancements of various talent admission schemes, to meet the shortfall in labour force, enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness and meet the future economic and social development. Though the measures are not put forth simply from the perspective of population policy, they will also have the effect of optimising our demographic structure and raising the quantity and quality of our workforce. In accordance with the aforesaid plan steered by the Chief Executive, individual bureaux will proactively follow up. The Government currently has no plan to set up a specific committee on population policy.

(3) People's decision to bear a child is dependent on various factors, including personal preference, lifestyle, economic and social situations, etc. While childbearing is a major family decision for which excessive government intervention is not appropriate, the Government has implemented various family-friendly measures to foster a supportive environment for childbearing. The measures being implemented include:

(i) Supporting parents to raise children: The child allowance under salaries tax has been increased to $120,000 since the year of assessment 2018/19, representing an increase of over 70 per cent compared to the year of assessment 2014/15. With the Kindergarten Education Scheme implemented since the 2017/18 school year, about 90 per cent of half-day kindergartens are currently free of charge while the school fees for whole-day kindergartens are maintained at a low level. Families with financial needs may apply for fee remission. The Education Bureau has regularised the provision of student grant starting from the 2020/21 school year. All students studying in secondary day-schools, primary schools and special schools as well as kindergartens are provided with a student grant of $2,500 every school year to alleviate parents' burden in education expenses;

(ii) Enhanced child care services: To further enhance day child care services, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has planned to set up nine aided standalone Child Care Centres (CCC) providing 800 additional places in the coming two to three years and to increase aided CCC places through the purchase of premises exercise. The SWD has also increased the subsidy level of CCC service, enhanced the manning ratio of Care Centre Workers and strengthened the supervisory support. The SWD has also implemented a host of enhancement measures for the After School Care Programme for primary school students, including adding 2 500 full fee-waiving subsidy places, relaxing application eligibility, increasing the subsidy level and streamlining means-test, etc. Apart from the full-waiving and half-waiving reduction, one third fee reduction has been added for supporting more low income families;

(iii) Supporting parents to take care of newborn babies: Implemented in 2019 and 2020 respectively, the five-day statutory paternity leave and 14-week statutory maternity leave enable eligible employees to have more time to spend with and take care of their newborn babies; and to continue to support and protect breastfeeding including actively promoting the adoption of Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace and Premises policy;

(iv) As a good employer, the Government has endeavoured to provide a family-friendly working environment to its employees. The Government has implemented the five-day week (FDW) initiative by phases starting from 2006 to improve the quality of civil servants' family life without compromising the level and efficiency of public services or incurring additional costs to taxpayers. We will continue to encourage departments which have not fully implemented the FDW to explore the feasibility of migrating more staff to the FDW in a pragmatic manner. Besides, taking into account the actual operational needs, Heads of Department may arrange flexible attendance hours and approve no-pay leave for to meet their needs; and

(v) Encouraging employers to implement family-friendly employment practices: including flexible work arrangements (e.g. flexible working hours, five-day work week and remote work or hybrid work model), additional leave benefit to cater for family needs (e.g. parental leave), offering living support (e.g. child care services, providing suitable facilities and work arrangements for lactating employees), etc. These measures help employees meet their needs at different stages of life.
Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:55
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