Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Thursday that the decision to raise the entry age threshold for financial elderly support had the blessing of the legislature and that she would not consider delaying its implementation.
At the first question-and-answer session of the year at the Legislative Council, Lam was criticised for the recent change to social welfare policy by both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps.
“I don’t know if all of you remember, but you approved the decision to raise the lower age limit for elderly financial support from 60 to 65,” she told lawmakers. “It was approved when you passed the budget for 2018 to 2019.”
Lam added that she was “surprised” that some lawmakers had called on the government to delay the change.
The Hong Kong government has said that, due to population factors, the policy will be changed so that residents had to be 65 – rather 60 – to be eligible for the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). The plan was first announced in January 2017 and will come into effect on February 1.
Lam rejected the claim that the government “did not care” about the elderly, saying that they would still be covered by the regular social welfare program.
“The people who are between 60 and 64… can still get the CSSA payment for able-bodied adults,” she said. “There is a comprehensive plan, and this is not an abrupt decision to strip certain residents of their right to a safety net.”
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.
Criticism from both camps
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong said on Thursday that Lam was “taking the lead in harming the elderly.” He called on the government to halt the policy until a substitute plan is put in place.
“You don’t know anything about people’s suffering and only think of yourself,” Kwong told Lam. “You say that the government is very concerned about the elderly – this is worse than hearing a swearword.”
Lawmaker Wilson Or from the pro-Beijing DAB party also expressed disappointment, saying that the government does not provide enough support for the elderly to find work.
“The DAB opposes the policy… Officials have insisted that the employment support policies will be enough to address the problem, but the policies’ reception and usage have been lower than expected,” he said.
Lam responded that the head of the Labour and Welfare Bureau will continue to listen to lawmakers for ideas.
New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung, also from the pro-Beijing camp, criticised the decision and asked for more elderly-friendly policies.
Yung and Or voted in favour of the government’s budget when it was passed last May, while Kwong abstained.
Pro-democracy lawmakers also staged a protest before Thursday’s question and answer session, holding placards that said “hurting the poor while fearing the rich, Carrie Lam says to elderly: Let them eat cake.”
Lam did not respond to the protest as she entered the Legislative Council chamber.