Lawmakers seek CSSA review amid anger over elderly benefits plan

January 17, 2019 12:19
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said on Monday that it is “almost impossible” not to implement the new age bar in relation to elderly social welfare benefits, sparking an outcry from lawmakers. Photo: HKEJ

Several lawmakers, cutting across political lines, have called for a full review of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, as they seek changes in policies amid anger over the government's proposal to raise the age threshold for elderly welfare payments.

During a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun from the social welfare functional constituency moved a motion for review of the entire CSSA Scheme system.

The motion was supported by legislators from both the pan-democratic and the pro-establishment camps, marking a rare situation where there was consensus among the two sides over an issue.

Leung Che-cheung, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the largest pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, proposed to revise the motion with an additional request that the government should shelve the measure of raising the age bar for eligibility for elderly welfare benefits.

Leung said his party will support not only the motion but also any related amendments, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

On Jan. 7, the Social Welfare Department announced that the eligible age for the elderly CSSA will be raised from Feb. 1 to 65 from 60 at present, a move that sparked intense criticism.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong told a radio program on Monday that it is “almost impossible” not to implement the new age bar.

Describing such attitude as being provocative, Leung said changing the age threshold amounts to throwing the grassroots people to the wolves.

He added that the proposal was not something that had been discussed by Legco’s Panel on Welfare Services.

Leung stressed that the only reason the pro-establishment camp voted for the Appropriation Bill 2018, which contained the measure, was because it focused on the broader economy, aiming to prevent Hong Kong from falling off the fiscal cliff like the United States.

The vote doesn't mean that DAB was supportive of all the items listed in the bill, contrary to what had been implied by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the DAB lawmaker said.

Among other legislators, Leung Mei-fun of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong slammed the government, saying it should not take the camp’s support for granted.

A vote on the motion was held Thursday morning, and the motion was passed among the lawmakers.

Dr. Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission, who is also an Executive Council member, said the controversy might end up throwing something positive, as discussions could focus on eliminating age discrimination at workplaces, pushing enterprises to improve their manpower policies and promoting efforts to extend the retirement age to 65.

The government is willing to listen to all opinions, Lam reiterated.

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