Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended the decision to raise the lower age limit for elderly financial support from 60 to 65, saying that the move is “reflecting reality.”
On Monday, the government announced that, from February 1, there will be an increase of 2.8 per cent for standard payments under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance, and Disability Allowance schemes. However, at the same time, the age at which residents become eligible for the elderly CSSA will be adjusted from 60 to 65. The change was announced in January 2017.
Currently, an able-bodied person who is single will receive HK$3,485 under the elderly CSSA scheme each month, HK$1,000 more than the regular CSSA payment for non-elderly persons.
Lam said ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday that the change was reasonable.
“There is no other agenda for this change. It is not to save money, and it is not inconsiderate. We are [making the change] to reflect on the reality of our population – because of the ageing population, if you say you today that you can’t work after 60… I don’t think you would accept it,” she told reporters. “I would not accept it either. I am also over 60. But I am still working over ten hours a day.”
Lam said elderly CSSA is the only remaining scheme that uses 60 as a lower age limit, whilst the threshold for other benefits such as health care vouchers have all gone up to 65.
She said the change will not affect residents, since current recipients of elderly CSSA who are not 65 yet will still receive payments under the scheme after the change in February.
As an example, she said that – if a 62-year-old person wants to apply for CSSA after the change – they will not be able to apply for the elderly CSSA. However, they can still apply for the regular CSSA, and the government will provide help to them to find employment at the same time.
“I have to stress that: they are not affected at all,” Lam said.
‘Gap in support’
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong, chair of the Legislative Council’s Panel of Welfare Services, criticised the change as a cut in benefits for elderly people.
“Many left the workplace after they turned 60 because of age or health problems,” he said. “But, other than the elderly CSSA, other elderly welfare measures are for those 65 and above – leaving a gap in support for those between 60 to 64.”
Kwong said that there were currently around 144,000 people receiving elderly CSSA, including around 25,000 aged between 60 and 64.
“It would only require around HK$100 million a year to maintain the existing arrangement,” he said. “The government will spend its surplus to build ‘white elephant’ projects, but will not save it up for elderly people in need.”
He said that he will demand the government explain welfare support for those aged between 60 and 64 at an upcoming panel meeting.
According to last year’s budget, Hong Kong has a surplus of HK$138 billion.