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Replies to LegCo Questions

LCQ6: Issues relating to the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme

Following is a question by the Hon Shiu Ka-chun and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Stephen Sui, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):

Question:

At present, the standard rates under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA) to be received by various categories of CSSA recipients are based on the prices of a basket of goods and services assessed by the Social Welfare Department in 1996 to be the basic needs for the relevant category of recipients. The CSSA payments receivable by various categories of recipients are adjusted annually according to the Social Security Assistance Index of Prices. On the other hand, the Chief Executive proposed in the Policy Address delivered last month that the eligible age for elderly CSSA be raised from 60 to 65 to align with the direction of the population policy to extend retirement age. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that non-elderly able-bodied CSSA recipients are required to participate in the Integrated Employment Assistance Programme for Self-reliance with a view that they may find paid employment as early as possible, among those able-bodied CSSA recipients aged between 55 and 59 in each of the past five years, of the percentage of them who had successfully secured employment after participating in the Programme; and the current number of CSSA recipients in this age group;

(2) whether it has plans to launch an extensive public consultation exercise before implementing the measure of raising the eligible age for elderly CSSA; if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; given that CSSA standard rates for able-bodied adults are about $1,000 per month less than those for the elderly, and that the supplements and certain special grants (e.g. grants to cover costs of dental treatment and glasses) receivable by elderly persons are not applicable to able-bodied adults, of the Government's justifications to introduce the new measure, which will result in the CSSA recipients aged between 60 and 64 receiving less CSSA payments than before; and

(3) given that some social workers have pointed out that the proportions and amounts of expenditure currently spent by CSSA recipients on various types of goods and services to meet their basic needs differ significantly from those of two decades ago, and that CSSA payments are no longer adequate for meeting various expenses on basic needs, whether the Government has plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the CSSA system, including reviewing the definition of basic needs and adjusting the composition and the relevant price levels of the basket of goods and services used for calculating CSSA standard rates; if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

My reply to the Hon Shiu Ka-chun's question is as follows:

(1) As at end-December 2016, there were a total of 7 505 able-bodied adult recipients aged between 55 and 59 under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, representing about 2 per cent of the overall 348 431 recipients under the Scheme.

Since January 1, 2013, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has been commissioning non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to assist in implementing the Integrated Employment Assistance Programme for Self-reliance (IEAPS) to provide employable able-bodied CSSA recipients aged 15 to 59 with employment assistance services. According to the needs of individual recipients, the relevant NGOs provide multifarious and one-stop employment assistance services, including assisting them in formulating job search plans, and providing them with information on employment, suitable training as well as post-employment support services, with a view to enhancing their employability and assisting them to sustain employment. From January 2013 to end-December 2016, the IEAPS had a total of 76 743 participants, among whom 16 133 (or 21 per cent) had successfully secured employment or returned to mainstream schooling after participating in the IEAPS. SWD does not keep the number and age profile of IEAPS participants who had successfully secured employment or returned to mainstream schooling.

(2) Under the existing CSSA Scheme, recipients aged 60 or above are eligible for elderly CSSA benefits. They are entitled to higher CSSA payments and are not required to work or participate in the IEAPS. In view of the improved life expectancy of the population and a policy of encouraging the young-olds to join the workforce, the Government recommended raising the eligibility age for elderly CSSA from 60 to 65. Persons aged between 60 and 64 who are receiving CSSA before the new policy takes effect will, however, not be affected, except when they re-apply for CSSA after having left the CSSA net, in which case the revised definition of old age will apply to them. Meanwhile, the CSSA payments of disabled persons or persons in ill health will not be affected by the new policy, i.e. they will, regardless of their age and same as elderly recipients, receive CSSA payments which are higher than those applicable to able-bodied adults.

(3) The Government takes account of the movement of the Social Security Assistance Index of Prices (SSAIP) and adjusts standard payment rates under the CSSA Scheme on an annual basis. In accordance with this mechanism, SWD has adjusted upward the standard payment rates under the CSSA Scheme by more than 30 per cent from 2011 to 2017. Moreover, SWD will update the weighting system of the SSAIP (i.e. the proportion of the relative expenditures of individual categories of goods and services covered by the Index) with the data obtained from the Household Expenditure Survey on CSSA households every five years to better reflect the expenditure patterns of CSSA recipients. The base year of the current weighting system is 2014/15.

If we compare the average CSSA payments with the average expenditure of the lowest 25 per cent expenditure group of non-CSSA households in Hong Kong, the former is higher in most household categories. In 2016-17, the estimated recurrent expenditure of CSSA is $21.4 billion, representing about 35 per cent of Government's social welfare recurrent expenditure or about 6 per cent of Government's overall recurrent expenditure.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2017