Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said a reversal of the government’s decision to raise the age threshold for eligibility for elderly welfare benefits from next month is extremely unlikely to happen.
Asked if the highly criticized measure would be retracted, Law told a Commercial Radio program that it is “almost impossible” to do that, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
He said Hong Kong has been lagging behind the international trend when it comes to defining “elderly” as some countries have even raised the age definition for the elderly to 68.
Law said 60 years old will be considered part of middle age when people live up to 120. The definition of a senior will have to change sooner or later, he added.
On Jan. 7, the Social Welfare Department announced that the eligible age for the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) will be raised from Feb. 1 to 65 from 60 at present, in accordance with a plan first outlined in January 2017.
The new age limit sparked widespread criticism from both pan-democratic and pro-establishment lawmakers, who said raising the age bar is tantamount to cutting the income of those originally entitled to the benefit.
Defending the new measure, Law said the government did not make the change “quietly” as it had been discussed at the Legislative Council, and explained by government officials in the previous administration and by himself since he took office, suggesting that it was not a sudden move as alleged by some lawmakers.
Law stressed other measures will be introduced later this month to help those people in need, including a possible rise in the amount welfare recipients are allowed to earn before their payments are affected, RTHK reported.
Although the CSSA scheme will not undergo a full-scale review, Law said the government will review the procedures required for CSSA applicants with ill health as they may find the rules too complicated and give up application.
During a meeting called by Legco’s Panel on Welfare Services on Monday, many lawmakers berated Law for the government’s stance on the issue.
Calling raising the new age requirement shameful, lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the largest pro-Beijing political party, slammed Law and his team for being totally unsympathetic toward people’s everyday hardships.
Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party, who had filed motions to shelve the measure during its deliberation by Legco’s welfare services panel, demanded that the government put it on hold.
The panel is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Jan. 28 to discuss the measure, and Law is expected to attend.
In response to requests that the measure be shelved or its implementation delayed, Law said bluntly that neither one of them is doable, adding that the administration will study other feasible complementary measures.
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