LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 7/96-97
[These minutes have been seen
by the Administration]
Ref: CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 15 July 1996 at 2:30 p.m. in the Legislative Council Chamber

Members Present :
    Hon LI Wah-ming (Chairman)
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
    Dr Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Hon LEE Kai-ming
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Members Absent :
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip*
    Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, OBE, JP*
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong *
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP *
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han*
Public Officers Attending :
For Item I
    Ms Lorna WONG
    Principal Assistant Secretary (Elderly Services)
    Mrs Leslie HUNG
    Assistant Director (Elderly & Medical Social Services)
    Mr FUNG Pak-yan
    Senior Social Work Officer (Elderly) 2
For Item II
    Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare
    Mr Carlos LEUNG
    Assistant Director (Youth & Rehabilitation)
    Mrs June SHERRY
    Chief Social Work Officer (Youth)
For Item III
    Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare
    Mr CHENG Wai Pang
    Assistant Secretary (Health and Welfare) Welfare 2
For Item I
City University of Hong Kong
    Ms Esther CHOW
    Senior Lecturer
    Miss Serena WONG
    Research Assistant
Staff in Attendance :
    Ms Doris CHAN
    Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4
    Mr Alfred CHAU
    Senior Assistant Secretary (2)4

I. Senior Citizen Card (SCC) Scheme

(Appendix I of LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1850/95-96)

1. At the request of the Chairman, Ms Esther CHOW introduced her survey. She highlighted the low usage rate of SCC and the reasons, and suggested the following five ways to improve the scheme -

  1. To improve the effectiveness of promotional activities and media relationship for the scheme;
  2. To increase and improve understanding of the actual needs of senior citizens;
  3. To increase communication with the participating organizations, set up a monitoring system and establish a best participating organization award;
  4. To strengthen the public education on respect for the elderly; and
  5. To encourage more eligible elderly persons to register under the scheme.

2. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan observed that McDonald Hamburger had a high usage rate and wondered whether there was a change in the eating habit of senior citizens. He pointed out that senior citizens valued practical benefits from utilities companies and transport companies most and therefore asked for information on the outcome of negotiations with utilities companies and transport companies in this regard. Ms Esther CHOW revealed that senior citizens welcomed exemption from tea charges at Chinese restaurants. She quoted cases where transport companies refused to honour their offers, and commented on the limited benefits from some utilities companies which most senior citizens were not able to enjoy.

3. Mrs Leslie HUNG said that majority of the transport companies in Hong Kong gave senior citizens concessions. Regarding the public utilities companies, only the Hong Kong Electric joined the Scheme. In responding to members’ questions, Mrs HUNG stated that the Water Supplies Department did not give any concession while the remaining public utilities companies declined to join the Scheme as they had concessionary schemes of their own.

4.Dr John TSE Wing-ling summarized his observations about the survey as follows -

  1. The benefits provided by participating companies did not meet the needs of card holders;
  2. The usage rate was low; and
  3. The number of participating companies (370) was relatively small.

He queried how much savings would be to a senior citizen using the card. Ms Esther CHOW said that the survey indicated that for most card holders, the scheme had not relieved their daily expenses or improved in their quality of life. It had not changed their living habits nor induced them to try new products and services. Furthermore, they claimed that they did not know where to obtain those benefits and where to reflect their needs.

5.Responding to the Chairman's query on the mechanism for complaints by senior citizens, Ms CHOW said that there was an enquiry number in small print on the card in pocket size which senior citizens found difficult to read. She also pointed out that her experience on dialling the enquiry number herself had shown that complaints were not handled professionally.

6.Dr LAW Chi-kwong suggested that senior citizen cards be issued automatically when Hong Kong citizens reached the age of 65. The Chairman said that he raised the same issue at the LegCo sitting on 10 July 1996. Mrs Leslie HUNG said that the information kept by the Immigration Department was for the issue of identity cards and travel documents. The release of personal data kept by the Immigration Department for the purpose of issuing Senior Citizen Cards could be regarded as an arbitrary interference with privacy. Moreover, senior citizens’ wish should be respected. Ms Lorna WONG reiterated the purposes of the information kept by Immigration Department and said that legal advice would need to be obtained if Dr LAW's proposal was to be pursued.

7.Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong observed a usage rate of 79% on public transport despite many restrictions. He requested the Administration to negotiate with those companies to eliminate all restrictions for senior citizens. The Chairman considered that senior citizens enjoyed practical benefits from transportation and public utilities and queried the Administration's effort in negotiating with those companies. In response, Mrs HUNG said that the Administration had discussed with those companies but as the Scheme was a voluntary one, the decisions of the participating companies should be respected.Adm

8.Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong opined that the Administration should set an annual target on improving benefits of senior citizen cards and should put more efforts in this respect. The Chairman added that the Administration should take an active approach in organizing competitions, award scheme and the like to stimulate participating companies to offer better services to senior citizens. Mrs HUNG noted the Panel's suggestions and pointed out that promotional programmes at district level including senior citizen card ambassador programmes had been organised to further promote the Scheme.

9.Mr Zachary WONG Wai-yin queried why medical services were not included in the benefits of senior citizen cards. He suggested that the age limit for the card be reduced from 65 to 60 since there was no abuse of senior citizen cards and a low usage rate so far. In reply, Mrs HUNG stated that there were about 220 clinics participating in the Scheme but they could not be listed for reasons related to ethics of the medical profession. SWD would provide information of participating clinics upon request. As the Scheme was at a developing stage, there was no plan to bring the age limit down to 60. Ms Lorna WONG added that one of the objectives of issuing senior citizen cards was to provide a convenient age identification in lieu of identity cards for both participating companies and senior citizens. She pointed out that since most participating companies now offered concessions to elderly persons aged 65 or above, it was for practical reasons that the senior citizen cards were issued to people 65+. However, the Administration would welcome companies which would offer benefits to senior citizens under the age of 65 and they would need only to produce their identity cards as proof of age to obtain such benefits.Adm

10.Mr Zachary WONG was not satisfied with the Administration's answer, and opined that the Administration was promoting the age of 65 for seniors. He observed that in some districts, citizens reaching the age of 60 were regarded as seniors, and urged the Administration to set the age for seniors at 60. He further asked the Administration to provide seniors with a list of clinics offering benefits to them and to discuss with the Hong Kong Medical Council should there be any difficulties. The Chairman said that some District Boards published a list of those clinics in their districts for seniors. Ms Esther CHOW said that the survey results showed that 61% of participating companies agreed to accept seniors at 60 and 52% of the senior citizens were in favour of lowering the age to 60. She urged the Administration to take the lead in reducing charges and fees for services at various Government Departments.

11.Dr YEUNG Sum considered that better results could be achieved if negotiations with public utilities companies were conducted by the central government. He therefore suggested that HWB should liaise with appropriate policy branches to approach public utilities companies for the promotion of senior citizen card scheme. It was hoped that with the coordination and effort from the Administration, more companies would join the Scheme.

12.Mr David CHU Yu-lin considered that the Administration should use licensing conditions to encourage public utilities companies to join the Scheme and government departments should make special arrangements for seniors such as a special counter serving seniors. From his experience in the United States, Mr CHU observed preferential treatment for senior was well-accepted with minimum abuse and it was not even necessary to produce the card.

13.Mr LEE Cheuk-yan agreed with Dr YEUNG that the Administration should take an active role in the promotion of the Scheme among public utilities companies and transport companies, and internally, the Administration should conduct an overall review of their services to show their support of the Scheme and to report to the Panel on the progress in six months.

14.After summing up members’ views and suggestions, the Chairman requested HWB to coordinate with other policy branches to further promote the scheme externally and internally. He suggested the Scheme could be promoted via Radio Television Hong Kong to facilitate seniors who were illiterate and asked the HWB to submit a progress report to the Panel by December 1996. Mrs Leslie HUNG said that all along both television and radio were used for promotion of the Scheme. Furthermore, Ms Lorna WONG agreed to study members's comments and suggestions and to review our approach in the light of them.Adm

II. Follow up on School Social Work

(Appendix II of LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 1850/95-96)Adm

15.Members noted that 94 schools with 38 or more band 5 students in their Form One enrolment had not yet achieved the manning ratio of 1 school social worker to 1,000 students to date but the situation was improving and by this September, the number would be reduced to about 47.

16.Dr YEUNG Sum commented on the slow progress in this respect and requested the Administration to allocate sufficient resources in the coming financial year to implement in full scale the policy of 1 school social worker per school. Mr R C WILSON agreed to bid for funds in the resource allocation exercise to provide more school social workers to those schools with more student problems. As regards the extension of the manning ratio of 1:1000 to all secondary schools, Mr WILSON said that for schools with more Band 5 students, he would strive to attain the target ratio as soon as possible subject to availability of resources. He agreed to let members know of the outcome when the funds were finalized. Mrs June SHERRY estimated that to meet the manning ratio, an additional 28 school social workers would be needed involving about $14 million. In conclusion, Mr WILSON agreed that priority should be given to providing additional school social workers to schools with Band 5 students to attain the manning ratio of 1:1000 as soon as possible. As for the entire school sector, a more formal review would be conducted by DSW to work out a more realistic ratio and the best way to man and provide the service.

III. Progress Report on Working Group on Allied Health Personnel

(LegCo Paper No. CB (2) 1864/95-96)

17.Mr R C WILSON pointed out that the paper was an interim report subject to further research and analyses and took members through the major components of the paper. He reminded members that the recommendations in the paper represented the views of the working group and were subject to acceptance by the Administration.

18.Dr LAW Chi-kwong posed three questions as follows:

  1. How much money was available from the Queen Elizabeth Fund for Scholarship and what was the demand position;
  2. Regarding physiotherapists (PTs) working in Care and Attention Homes for the Elderly, why the rank of PTII was not upgraded to PTI; and
  3. How much resources were allocated in the financial year 1997/98 for the implementation of those proposals.

19.Regarding PTs in Care and Attention Homes for the Elderly, Mr WILSON replied that the proposal was to upgrade PTII to PTI as soon as possible, and the provision of a responsibility allowance was an interim measures designed to retain PTII in the subvented sector. On resource allocation to implement those proposals, Mr WILSON said that the Administration was considering the creation of more senior posts in the subvented sector to facilitate the retention of experienced personnel.

20.Commenting on the Queen Elizabeth Fund, Mr WILSON said that it was a relatively small fund for use in connection with the mentally handicapped. He agreed to submit a written reply on the amount available for scholarship and the demand. [Summary Note: In 1996-97 the Fund was about $12m for distribution and has agreed to fund $235,000 in scholarship.]

21.Dr John TSE Wing-ling raised three questions as follows:Adm
  1. As the demand and supply of PT, Clinical Psychologists (CPs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs) were under the control of the Administration, who should be responsible for the unsatisfactory demand and supply of those professionals?
  2. Regarding the manning ratio of 1 senior CP to 6 CPs for NGOs, most NGOs were not in a position to employ 6 CPs and thus limiting their promotion prospect. Why did the Administration not consider promoting CPs by seniority instead of a manning ratio?
  3. For those professionals, HA was a preferred employer in the market. Why did the Administration not arrange with HA on a secondment system for those professionals?

22.In reply, Mr WILSON apologised for not detecting the demand and supply problem of such professionals earlier, but with the establishment of a standing committee to closely monitor the problem, it was expected that it would not happen again. Regarding promotion prospects, Mr WILSON said that NGOs were allowed to create fractional posts, for instance a half senior CP to 3 CPs funded by their own resources or shared with other NGOs. The Administration planned to apply for funds for this purpose. As regards the proposal for secondment of such professionals from HA, Mr WILSON opined that HA and NGOs would expect to recruit and manage their own staff. He added that it would be an expensive solution and that would not be acceptable in policy terms. Dr TSE pointed out NGOs, especially smaller ones were competing with HA for those professionals and would suffer in the competition, in terms of career prospects, promotion prospects and compensation package. Mr WILSON realised that the retention of such professionals was a problem but to radically change the role of HA was not possible. Other suggestions had been made to help recruit and retain staff in the welfare sector such as arranging for more clinical placements to NGOs, creating senior posts in NGOs and allowing such staff to retain Provident Fund benefits when transferring between sectors.

23.Dr YEUNG Sum agreed that it was not appropriate for staff to be appointed by HA and then posted to NGOs. He asked the Administration to consider seriously narrowing the disparity of the compensation packages of NGOs and HA for those professionals, such as by giving responsibility allowances. Mr WILSON noted Dr YEUNG's suggestion and said that there may be a case for responsibility allowances in certain circumstances.

24.The Chairman reminded members that a visit to Interim Housing Areas would be arranged and details of the visit would be advised later.

The meeting ended at 4:30 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
2 October 1996
* -- Other Commitments

Last Updated on 24 August 1998