Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (June 30):
The Quarterly Report on General Household Survey published by the Government reveals that the number of households with monthly household income below $4,000 in the first quarter of this year reached 186,000, representing an increase of 6% when compared with that of the same period last year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has studied why the number of poor households had increased despite the economic recovery when compared with that of last year amidst the financial tsunami, and if this reflects that the Government’s policy to alleviate poverty by means of “handing out candies” is ineffective;
(b) whether the Government will reconsider the re-establishment of the Commission on Poverty in order to formulate a long-term policy on poverty alleviation to address the problem of poverty in Hong Kong; and
(c) given that people living in poverty cannot support themselves after retirement, whether the Government will reconsider the implementation of a universal retirement protection scheme?
(a) According to the Census and Statistics Department, the increase in households with monthly income below $4,000 in the first quarter of 2010 over a year earlier was mainly due to a rise in economically inactive households (i.e. all members of which are economically inactive) and elderly households (i.e. all members of which are aged 60 or above). This was attributable to the secular trend in Hong Kong towards population ageing and smaller household size, and hence the emergence of more retired elderly households over the past ten years or so. In fact, as economic recovery gradually took hold, the proportion of economically active households (i.e. at least one member of which is economically active) with monthly income below $4,000 registered a drop of about 3.4% in the first quarter of 2010 as compared to a year earlier. It is worth noting that the above income statistics could not fully reflect the financial situation of these households as their savings and assets have not been taken into account.
The Government has all along been adopting a pragmatic and multi-pronged approach to tackle poverty. We strive to promote economic growth to create more job opportunities. In tandem, we invest heavily in education and child development, and provide training and retraining opportunities to raise the competitiveness and skills of our workforce, to enhance social mobility and reduce inter-generational poverty. Moreover, the Government provides a social safety net and a wide range of free or highly subsidised services in the areas of social welfare, education, healthcare, and housing, etc to ensure that families with financial difficulties can meet their basic needs. In 2010-11, the Government’s recurrent public expenditure in these four policy areas is expected to reach $139.2 billion, representing 57.2% of the total recurrent public expenditure.
Having regard to changes in the economic situation, the Government has, since 2008, introduced a number of relief measures amounting to about $110 billion to help people, especially the grassroot, tide over economic adversities and to share with them economic benefits. These measures, including providing additional payments to recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and Social Security Allowance (SSA), introducing the short-term food assistance service, paying rent for public housing tenants, etc., have been effective in general.
(b) After the former Commission on Poverty (CoP) concluded its work in 2007, the Government set up the inter-departmental Task Force on Poverty (TFP), headed by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, to follow up CoP’s recommendations and coordinate efforts across the Government in tackling poverty-related issues. Most of the 53 recommendations made by CoP have been implemented. TFP will continue with its work and explore initiatives and measures which can assist the disadvantaged groups and people in need.
(c) Currently, Hong Kong adopts the three-pillar model for retirement protection, viz the non-contributory social security system (including the CSSA Scheme and the SSA Scheme which is made up of Old Age Allowance and Disability Allowance), the Mandatory Provident Fund system and voluntary savings. If families (including those of retired persons) have financial difficulties, they can receive financial assistance through the CSSA Scheme to meet their basic needs.
The three-pillar model was adopted in the 1990’s after lengthy discussion by different sectors of the community. In view of our ageing population, the Government is currently conducting a study on the sustainability of the three pillars. We will carefully consider the findings of the study.