The government has announced it will suspend a HK$200 penalty – imposed upon welfare recipients aged between 60 and 64 – if they fail to seek employment.
From Friday, the eligibility age for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments will be increased from 60 to 65. But, following an outcry from lawmakers, the government announced a concessionary measure whereby it will extend extra financial support to able-bodied adults aged 60-64 receiving CSSA.
However, according to the Social Welfare Department, new applicants for the concessionary measure must join the Support for Self-reliance Scheme, or face a penalty of HK$200. By joining the scheme, they would have to meet social workers every two months and show evidence of job-hunting or face a HK$200 fine after three consecutive meetings.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong defended the penalty arrangement during a Saturday radio programme, saying that it was reasonable to have “some symbolic requirement.”
Law’s remarks were widely criticised by lawmakers at a protest on Sunday. Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said the government did not listen to their criticism.
“Why not add HK$200 for those who join the scheme? Let us encourage, not punish. Our colleagues raised this proposal, but the government did not listen,” he said. “The government only changes its policies every so often – but it is making mistakes every time it changes policies.”
Following the protest, the government on Monday made another concession and announced the penalty would be suspended. The arrangement will be observed for six months.
The announcement was made before Chief Executive Carrie Lam was set to meet seven pro-democracy lawmakers over the issue on Monday.
Speaking at a Panel on Welfare Services at the legislature, also on Monday, Law said the change was made as there were different opinions over the penalty: “Members of the public believe the arrangements could be looser for able-bodied adults between 60 and 64,” he said.
Law said the government will complete a review of the CSSA scheme this year.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Wilson Or said the arrangement was chaotic for elderly people.
Law said the penalty had existed in the past, but lawmakers may not have known in the past, thus the government made a lenient arrangement.
But he admitted the information was not clear enough: “We listened to people’s discontent, and their unhappiness.”