Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 560
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration
and cleared with Chairman)

Ref : CB2/PL/WS

Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 3 October 1997 at 10:45 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon WONG Siu-yee (Chairman)
Hon CHAN Choi-hi (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon LO Suk-ching

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public officers attending :

Item II

Mr Robin GILL
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3)

Miss Victoria TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare

Mr Adrew LEUNG
Director of Social Welfare

Mr Carlos LEUNG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth and Training)

Item III

Ms Miranda CHIU
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare

Miss Elley MAO
Principal Economist

Deputy Commissioner for Census and Statistics

Mr Andrew LEUNG
Director of Social Welfare

Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)

Item IV

Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)

Mrs Eleanor TONG
Acting Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Finance)

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4

Staff in attendance :
Ms Joanne MAK
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4

I.Date of next meeting and items for discussion

Members agreed to the following meeting dates for the first quarter of 1998 -

9 January 1998 )
13 February 1998 ) 10:45 am
13 March 1998 )

2.Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting scheduled for 14 November 1997 -

  1. old age pension; and

  2. social problems caused by separation of children from their mothers who had no right of abode in Hong Kong.

With regard to item (a) above, members suggested inviting deputations such as the Hong Kong Social Security Society and the Federation of Trade Unions to join the discussion. Members also requested the Clerk to provide them with the relevant Hansard of the motion debate on " old age pension scheme " in 1995. Clerk 3.Members agreed to discuss " Unemployment of fresh social work graduates' at the meeting to be held on 12 December 1997.

II.Research on juvenile gangs and runaway youth
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)285(05))

4.Mr Carlos LEUNG briefed members on the major findings of the study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on juvenile gangs and runaway youth in Hong Kong. Mr LEUNG invited members' attention to the 13 recommendations made by the research team of CUHK and highlighted that 11 of them were in line with the services currently provided by the Education Department (ED), the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The concerned Departments and NGOs would try to strengthen existing services and if necessary, develop new programmes for the at risk group in the light of their needs as analysed in the research report.

5.Mr LEUNG further elaborated that the Working Group on Services for Youth at Risk (the Working Group) had proposed setting up two youth mobile teams in place of a mobile youth activity centre which was recommended by the research team. Details of the two youth mobile teams were set out in Annex III of the Administration's paper.

6.Mr LEUNG said that the Working Group had also decided not to pursue the longitudinal study proposed by the research team because the proposal went beyond the target group. However, an evaluation study on the youth mobile team would target specifically on the issues of young night-drifters including their demand for services.

7.Mrs Elsie TU agreed with the recommendations in the research report but criticized that it had actually provided no new information. She considered that the Administration was investigating facts which had already been known for over ten years instead of really resolving youth problems. On the existing services provided by ED, SWD and NGOs, Mrs TU made the following comments -

  1. only seven special schools to cater for students with severe learning problems were obviously inadequate to meet actual demands;

  2. since children would probably become parents one day, she requested sending specialist teams to schools to educate secondary students on how to make marriages successful and how to do good parenting; and

  3. control on television programmes should be stepped up as many of them had bad influence on young people.

Mrs TU reiterated that the Administration should explore long-term solutions and believed that many youth problems were due to inadequate parenting. She also suggested that in contacting the night-drifters, the youth mobile teams should find out whether these young people were reluctant to go home because of family problems and, if so, offer help to resolving the problems such as by talking to their parents.

8.In response, Mr Andrew LEUNG agreed that youth problem was a complicated issue which had to be tackled in concerted efforts by families, schools and the society. He stressed that the Administration was very concerned about the problem and had set up an inter-departmental working group on services for youth at risk which was chaired by himself. The working group composed of representatives from the Health and Welfare Bureau, Home Affairs Bureau, Security Bureau, ED, SWD, Department of Health, Police, NGOs and independent members. The working group also considered that strengthening family values was very important in fostering healthy development of a youngster.

9.Both Mrs Elsie TU and Mr CHAN Choi-hi considered that it was more important for the Administration to tackle the youth problem at root rather than dealing with only symptoms of the problem. While Mrs TU considered that the Government should exercise greater control on films and television programmes as they had great impact on the younger generation, Mr CHAN opined that the Government should implement all the services which it had pledged to provide. As an example, he said that the Government had not even met the target of providing a social worker for each school. He further criticized the Administration for adopting a piecemeal approach to tackle the youth problem, and suggested setting up a high-powered working party to devise a long-term strategy and co-ordinate the allocation of resources amongst service units in tackling the youth problem.

0.Mr Carlos LEUNG supplemented that the Working Group had recently met representatives from the media and expressed their concerns about the adverse influence exerted by the media on the young people. He also informed members that a comprehensive review was being conducted by the Working Group on Review of School Social Work Service and the relevant report would be available for public consultation by early 1998.

11.Mr Andrew LEUNG did not consider that the Administration was less concerned about the youth problem than other social problems. He pointed out that various committees such as the Co-ordinating Committee for the Welfare of Children and Youth-at-risk, the Social Welfare Advisory Committee and the Fight Crime Committee had been set up to tackle the youth problem at the policy level. He also informed members that the working group on services for youth-at-risk would devise a strategic approach to address the needs of this target group.

12.In response to Mr HUI Yin-fat's enquiry, Mr Carlos LEUNG said that the two pilot youth mobile teams would be run by NGOs commencing from October 1997. SWD would advise the concerned NGOs to redeploy more experienced staff to fill the posts.

13.In response to Mr HUI Yin-fat's further enquiry, Mr LEUNG explained that the two mobile teams would be attached to an integrated team or an outreaching social work team which would provide back-up support and assist in making referrals to existing youth services. He added that the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) had expressed support for the setting up of the two mobile teams. However, Mr HUI Yin-fat was of the view that HKCSS had only supported setting up the mobile teams but not the proposed level of manpower and resources to be provided to the teams. Mr LEUNG responded that the effectiveness of this experimental project would be evaluated by an independent review team.

14.Mr LAU Kong-wah queried why the Administration did not extend the existing outreaching services to provide services to young night-drifters. He considered that since some of the target clients were actually juvenile gangs during day-time and night-drifters at night, it was a duplication of efforts to create the mobile teams in addition to the outreaching teams to provide assistance to the same group of needy youngsters.

15.In response, Mr Andrew LEUNG clarified that the role played by the mobile teams was different from that of outreaching teams as the former only aimed at providing on-the-spot crisis intervention and arranging young night-drifters to participate in mainstream youth services. Mr Carlos LEUNG pointed out that it was the Administration's policy of setting up integrated teams to provide holistic services to young people in future to avoid duplication of resources. He explained that the mobile teams were actually an extension of existing integrated team. Their setting up was supported by HKCSS, and the agencies running outreaching social work teams also objected to extending their service hours to provide services to young night-drifters at this stage when the size of the target clients was uncertain. Mr LEUNG said that an evaluation study would be conducted on the effectiveness of the mobile teams, including their mode of operation.

16.Mrs Peggy LAM expressed doubt on the adequacy of only two mobile teams to provide services to the anticipated large number of young night-drifters, and asked if any special training would be provided to the staff in handling young night-drifters. Regarding the Administration's suggestion of re-deploying more experienced staff to service the teams, Mrs LAM was concerned whether this would cause operational problems to other service units.

17.In response, Mr Carlos LEUNG explained that transfer of staff amongst service units of a NGO was a common practice. He believed there would not be staffing problems since the consequential vacancies would be filled by replacements. He also considered that the NGOs concerned would have suitable staff who had the relevant experience and received the appropriate training to fill the posts of the mobile teams. On the need to increase the number of mobile teams, Mr LEUNG replied that the matter would be considered when the evaluation study was completed. He further explained that the present arrangement was for the teams to provide crisis intervention and make referrals to existing service units as required. In addition, co-operation had been secured from the police which had agreed to provide information on the blackspots to be covered by the mobile teams. Mr LEUNG said that the two mobile teams initially planned to serve 800 young night-drifters in two years.

18.Responding to Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung's question, Mr Andrew LEUNG revealed that two inter-departmental task forces had been set up, each headed by the Secretary for Health and Welfare and Mr LEUNG himself, to formulate plans and strategies for tackling the youth problems. To improve co-operation amongst service providers, the Administration would interface more closely with the concerned parties such as the Action Committee Against Narcotics or the Commission on Youth to exchange ideas.

19.Mr Andrew LEUNG revealed that the "Understanding the Adolescent Project" which had devised an early identification screening tool for student-at-risk was another endeavour of the working group on services for youth-at-risk. This project aimed at providing early identification and timely support to those in need. As the Administration also recognized the important role played by families, family life education and life skill training were also being provided by NGOs and ED respectively to enhance participants'ability such as relationship building skills.

III.People living below the poverty line
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)379(01))

20.Miss Elley MAO, Principal Economist, pointed out that there was no objective definition of " poverty " . Neither could a relative poverty line be drawn given that it would vary from economy to economy and tend to change over time in line with economic growth. Therefore, the Administration had considered it not very meaningful to draw a " poverty line " . Miss MAO said it was worth to note that there had been substantial increases in both the household median income and the earnings for every income group in the past decade. For example, the nominal increase was up to 240% and the real increase was 51% from 1986 to 1996. She agreed that income disparity existed which was attributed to the rapid economic restructuring of Hong Kong in the past decade. However, households of different income groups had all registered substantial increases in the same period of time. The proportion of households with monthly income exceeding $8,000 (at 1996 prices) had increased from about 69% in 1986 to 83.5% in 1996.

21.Miss MAO considered that it was not appropriate to use median household income levels which were constantly moving for analysis of poverty or for drawing a poverty line. Moreover, to make comparison of the same income level in two different periods, adjustment for inflation should be made. She pointed out that Table 4 of the Administration's paper reflected that there had been increases in Hong Kong people's income all the time.

22.Miss MAO further explained that if the concept of relative poverty was applied, in any society there would be always a group of people who earned relatively less and would be regarded as poor. Therefore, instead of drawing an arbitrary poverty line, the Administration considered it more meaningful to continue providing assistance such as housing, medical and educational subsidies to people in need. Moreover, if a poverty line was too leniently drawn, it would only affect fair allocation of resources. Miss MAO also reminded members to take into account the various kinds of welfare provisions available for the low-income groups in considering their real level of well-being.

23.Mr HUI Yin-fat asked the Administration how it would respond to the rise in the Gini Coefficient for Hong Kong and increase in income diversity. In reply, Miss Elley MAO explained that there could be many factors accounting for rises in the Gini Coefficient. In the case of Hong Kong, she believed that it was due to the faster growth in income of the high income groups than the others. She pointed out that the Gini Coefficient actually failed to reflect improvements made to the living standards of the low income households by various welfare services and the mobility of some people moving from the low to high income groups. She opined that given the fast pace of economic development in Hong Kong and the absence of any barrier or impediments to entering into jobs in different sectors, there were many opportunities for the low income groups to improve their living conditions.

24.In response to Mr HUI Yin-fat, Miss MAO disagreed that the low income groups were unable to share the prosperity brought about by the economic achievement of Hong Kong since the by-census conducted in 1996 also showed that the lowest income households had achieved an income increase by 270% in the past decade. To ensure that people could improve their living standards, Miss MAO considered that fast economic growth was the most important which could provide employment opportunities. On the other hand, education and the re-training services were also important in helping people to pick up new skills for entering into jobs and improving their conditions.

25.Mr CHAN Choi-hi criticized that the Administration was trying to avoid admitting the existence of poverty and addressing its problems. He disagreed that there was no scientific method for drawing a " poverty line " as there were over ten sets of indicators adopted by the United Nations (UN) for drawing poverty lines. He elaborated that there were the following merits in drawing a poverty line -

  1. the Administration would know how many people were living below the poverty line and would be able formulate a policy for them; and

  2. it would help to ensure that people with greater needs would receive more welfare provisions.

26.Mr CHAN disagreed that maintenance of economic growth in Hong Kong was the only way to solve the poverty problem because many of those employed were actually earning very low incomes. The problem of the " working poor " had been aggravated by the economic restructuring of Hong Kong and the policy of importing labour. Mr CHAN neither believed that the re-training service could help to eliminate all the unemployment problems.

27.In response, Miss Elley MAO quoted an example to show that methods used by UN for defining poverty could be very controversial. She agreed that it was not easy for some people to enter into jobs with better pay in the short term but various welfare provisions were in place to help them.

28.Mrs Elsie TU noted that those earning less than $10,000 a month and living in private housing were very much in need of help since they might be spending half or more of their income on rent. Mrs TU wondered if the Administration could extend priority housing to people who were unlikely to get a job earning more than $10,000 a month and were still on the waiting list for public housing.

29.In response, Mr Andrew LEUNG explained that financially vulnerable people who were unable to meet their basic needs should apply for CSSA. Compassionate rehousing would be granted to families with special social needs upon recommendations by family social workers. The Administration was now considering actively seeking out elderly CSSA recipients with housing needs for priority consideration under the compassionate rehousing arrangement.

30.Mrs Elsie TU commented that rental subsidy was not a good idea as it was actually helping the landlords rather than the tenants. To avoid encouraging people to go on CSSA in order to get housing, she suggested the Administration to review the waiting list and give priority housing to people earning salaries below $10,000 and were probably unable to improve their situation. Mrs Rachel CARTLAND agreed to give thought to the suggestion.Adm

31.Mrs Peggy LAM considered that the rate of disregarded income of $1,720 was too low and should be increased. Otherwise, the current policy of deducting from the CSSA payment of any amount in excess of the disregarded income would only discourage the recipients from taking up jobs. She also requested that the amount of disregarded income should be adjustable subject to the number of family members. In addition, the Administration should look at problems of single parent families and address their special needs.

32.Mr Andrew LEUNG agreed that the Administration needed to provide support to some CSSA recipients so that they could get back to work. For example, many single parent families had to resolve child care problems before the parents could be released to work. He indicated that an inter-departmental working party had been set up to look at these problems .

33.Mr LAU Kong-wah expressed concern about the large increase in the number of CSSA caseloads, and asked for the number of people who had stayed on CSSA for over ten years and still failed to find employment. Mrs Rachel CARTLAND replied that the requested information was not available at the moment, but SWD was conducting an analysis on the unemployed component of CSSA caseloads. She revealed that the number of the " unemployed category " of the CSSA recipients was still favourable compared with foreign countries although it had been rising sharply.

34.Mr LAU Kong-wah requested the Administration to provide a breakdown of the " unemployed category " to show what kinds of people (drug addicts etc) made up the category. He reminded the Administration that many people had a welfare-dependent attitude and preferred to stay on CSSA rather than to work. He was worried that abuse of CSSA would create a great long-term financial burden for Hong Kong and requested the Administration to step up efforts in tackling the problem. The Chairman requested the Administration to provide information on CSSA recipients, including -

  1. their age distribution;

  2. how long they had been receiving CSSA ; and

  3. why they needed to apply for CSSA.

Mrs Elsie TU requested that the profile should include new arrival families on CSSA.

35.Mr HO Sai-chu asked why official figures revealed on the one hand that the number of low income groups had been reducing and, on the other hand, CSSA caseloads were rising sharply. In response, Mr Andrew LEUNG explained that the ageing problem of Hong Kong was a major factor contributing to the large increase in the number of elderly CSSA recipients. In addition, the relaxation of the asset limit under CSSA Scheme and the increase in the standard rate of CSSA in April 1996 had attracted more people to apply for the Scheme. At the same time, publicity for the Scheme was stepped up and there was a change of social attitude towards it.

36.Mr CHAN Choi-hi reiterated his request to draw a poverty line, and requested the Research and Library Services Division of the PLC Secretariat to conduct a research on the subject by making reference to the relevant policies of the neighbouring countries and the developing ones. He also considered that the Administration was adopting a piecemeal approach in addressing the problem of poverty and a working party should be set up to co-ordinate efforts of various bureaux to tackle the problem. Members supported his proposal for a research on poverty line.

IV.Information systems strategy study and computerized social security system
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)379(03))

37.Mrs Rachel CARTLAND explained that the proposed Information Systems Strategy Study (ISSS) and the Computerized Social Security System (CSSS) aimed at providing better service to clients and enhancing the Administration's ability to respond more quickly to new social security arrangements and services. SWD had carried out ISSS which was recently completed. In parallel with ISSS, a Feasibility Study had also been conducted to examine the development of the CSSS which was a new system aimed to replace the existing Social Security Payment System. The Administration would submit the recommendations of ISSS to the Finance Committee (FC) and the proposals would be further discussed at the FC meeting to be held on 31 October 1997.

38.The Administration planned to bring CSSS into operation in October 2000. Mrs Eleanor TONG added that the next priority of SWD was to conduct two Feasibility Studies on Client Information System (CIS) and Technical Infrastructure (TI) which were targeted to be completed within 1998. Subject to the successful outcome of the two studies and funds being available, SWD proposed to proceed with the implementation of CIS and TI in 1999. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Mrs Rachel CARTLAND explained that it had to take a long time to implement CSSS because of the complexity of the work and the large volume of casefiles involved. In converting the Social Security System, Mrs CARTLAND said that CSSS was probably the largest project of this kind that had been undertaken in Hong Kong. At Mrs Elsie TU's enquiry, Mrs CARTLAND said that the system would be bilingual.

39.Members supported the proposals and had no further comments.

40.The meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
13 November 1997