Lawmakers slam CE for passing buck on elderly welfare benefits

January 11, 2019 15:56
Opposition lawmakers hold protest placards as Chief Executive Carrie Lam enters the Legislative Council chamber for the question and answer session on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was taken to task during her appearance at the Legislative Council for her administration's decision to raise the age threshold for eligibility for elderly welfare benefits.

Lawmakers from both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps accused the Hong Kong leader of trying to escape responsibility by saying that the measure was included in the budget bill that Legco approved, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The Social Welfare Department on Monday announced that the eligible age for the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) will be raised from Feb. 1 to 65 from the current 60, under a plan that was first outlined in January 2017.

The new age limit sparked widespread criticism, with lawmakers saying that raising the age bar is tantamount to cutting the income of those originally entitled to the benefit.

At the Chief Executive’s Question and Answer Session on Thursday, lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan from the New People's Party said people are unhappy with the higher age bar, and asked Lam at one point if her administration would consider retracting the measure.

In her reply, Lam said Hong Kong is one of the highest in life expectancy as well as aging population, and as such, people in their 60s are generally not treated part of “the elderly”.

She said the measure of raising the age bar is not meant to save money, but to rationalize the scheme in accordance with the existing situation of the city’s population.

Lam said the labor participation rate of senior citizens in the city has continued to increase, with the 60-64 age group rising to 45.2 percent in 2017 from 32.5 percent in 2007.

She also stressed that while the measure was included in the Appropriation Bill 2018 proposed by the government, it was in fact approved by Legco.

As such, the chief executive said she was surprised to hear lawmakers’ criticism of the measure.

Legco records show that the measure had met objections during the deliberation. The appropriation bill was passed in May last year with 43 votes in favor, including 40 from the pro-establishment camp.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Labour Party had filed motions to shelve the measure in November 2017 and November last year during its deliberation by the Legco panel on welfare services.

His motion, in fact, was passed unanimously in the two meetings.

Cheung said Lam's remarks were tantamount to accusing lawmakers of being in favor of raising the age bar, which was far from the truth.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the city's largest pro-Beijing political party, also criticized Lam's remarks.

She said they voted in favor of the budget because overall, it was not bad and it was supported by the people, RTHK reported.

But that does not mean all the individual items in the budget were supported by lawmakers or political parties, Quat said.

Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun of the social welfare functional constituency said he will write a letter jointly with social workers’ organizations to ask Lam to put the measure on hold.

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