Penalty suspended but new age limit for elderly CSSA stays: Law

January 29, 2019 15:13
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong (inset) told the Legco’s welfare services panel on Monday that the government has put on hold a plan to penalize some CSSA recipients who don’t join jobs programs. Photo: HKEJ

The government has suspended a plan to levy a penalty on social security allowance recipients aged 60 to 64 who are capable of working but still refuse to join an employment program.

The proposal for a HK$200 monthly fine on people in the 60-64 age group who claim elderly benefits under the CSSA Scheme without bothering to join a job program has been put on hold, pending further review, a top official said on Monday.  

Acknowledging that the penalty proposal had elicited strong reactions in society, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong told a Legislative Council panel meeting that the government will take a fresh look at the matter.

Attending a special meeting of the Legco's Panel on Welfare Services, Law said the administration will make a call after completing a review of the CSSA scheme by the end of this year, and observing the situation in the next six months on welfare benefits recipients who satisfy the requirements of an employment scheme.

However, Law stressed that authorities have no intention to withdraw the planned change of the age limit for the elderly CSSA Scheme, as urged by some lawmakers, 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.

As the new age limit sparked widespread criticism from both pan-democrats and pro-establishment lawmakers, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Jan. 18 that senior citizens aged 60 to 64 who are applicants for the CSSA benefits will receive an additional HK$1,060 a month to make up for the shortfall in their welfare payments due to the new age requirement.

The government said the purpose of the supplementary scheme, which also takes effect from Feb. 1, aims to encourage the affected people to join the labor market and remain in employment.

In order to prevent some from taking advantage of the employment support supplement, qualified able-bodied CSSA recipients will be fined HK$200 a month, in the form of deduction from the welfare payment, if they refuse to join an employment scheme or the government determines they fail to meet the requirements of the scheme.

These recipients are required to join the Integrated Employment Assistance Programme for Self-reliance, where they must make two attempts to find a job and meet social workers at least once every two months to receive job search assistance.

In light of Law’s hardline stance on the matter, a number of lawmakers, cutting across party lines, assailed the welfare chief over the proposed changes in the CSSA Scheme.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) questioned why the government would choose to suspend implementation of the penalty rather than shelving the new age limit.

In his reply to Quat, Law said his answer will be the same even if he has to answer the question again, although he noted that the government would listen to all opinions.

Later on the same day, several pan-democratic lawmakers met with Lam at the government headquarters to discuss issues regarding the elderly CSSA, only to witness a disappointing outcome.

Shiu Ka-chun, a lawmaker who represents the social welfare functional constituency, quoted Lam as reiterating after the 50-minute meeting that the direction of raising the age threshold for eligibility for elderly welfare benefits will not change, and there won't be any comprehensive review of the CSSA system.

Describing the meeting as not a happy one that left the lawmakers with nothing but anger, Shiu claimed that he will ask the pro-establishment bloc to jointly exert more pressure on Lam when the chief executive attends a question-and-answer session in Legco on Wednesday.

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