The government has announced revisions to its social security payments programs, with the key elements being an upward adjustment in the payouts and an increase in the age threshold for elderly welfare benefits eligibility.
According to a press release on Monday, the standard payment rates under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme will be increased by 2.8 percent from Feb. 1.
The same increase will apply to the rates of the Old Age Allowance (including those payable under the Guangdong and Fujian schemes), the Old Age Living Allowance and Disability Allowance under the Social Security Allowance (SSA) scheme.
The adjustment will incur an additional expenditure of HK$1.253 billion per year, benefiting about 1.26 million recipients, according to the spokesman.
Meanwhile, in a controversial move, the government decided to raise the eligible age for the elderly CSSA to 65, from the current 60, under a plan that was first outlined in January 2017.
The reason for increasing the age threshold for elderly CSSA is the improved life expectancy of the population in Hong Kong and the trend of extending the retirement age to 65, the government said.
Although authorities promised that those aged between 60 and 64 who have received the elderly CSSA before Feb. 1 this year will be “grandfathered” and hence won’t be affected, the new age limit has come in for wide criticism, including from lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum.
Critics argued that raising the age bar is tantamount to cutting income for people who are set to turn 60, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Currently a qualified single person between the age of 60 to 64 can receive an elderly CSSA payment of HK$3,485 month, but such person can only be qualified for a standard CSSA payment from February, which is HK$2,455, or nearly 30 percent less.
A spokesman for the Social Welfare Department pointed out that the changes made to CSSA and SSA schemes had been proposed earlier by the government based on the movement of the Social Security Assistance Index of Prices, and that they were subsequently approved by the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee.
That may be so, but the new adjustments still sparked intense disquiet among sections of the public.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu said the new policy is in effect depriving the elderly of the welfares they were originally entitled to, which can only make the government less popular among the masses.
Lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong also said the party does not support the policy change.
Or urged the Labour and Welfare Bureau to study ways to provide more employment support for people aged 60-64 who want to reenter the workforce to earn a living.
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