Provisional Legislative Council
PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1022
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration
Ref : CB2/PL/WS
Panel on Welfare Services
Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 12 December 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 LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon LO Suk-ching
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Members absent :
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Public officers attending :
Attendance by invitation :
- Item III
- Mr Robin GILL
- Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3)
- Miss Victoria TANG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (2)
- Mrs Patricia CHU
- Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services)
- Mr Carlos LEUNG
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth & Training)
- Item IV
- Mr HO Wing-him
- Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (2)
- Ms Miranda CHIU
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (1)
- Mrs Louise WONG, JP
- Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)
- Mrs Rachel CARTLAND, JP
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)
- Item V
- Mr HO Wing-him
- Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (2)
- Ms Lorna WONG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Elderly Services)
- Mrs Patricia CHU
- Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services)
- Mrs Eliza LEUNG
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Elderly & Medical Social Services)
- Item III
- Social Work Graduate Employment Concern Group
- Miss CHAN Lo
- Miss FUNG Wai-yin
- Miss IP Kam-sau
- Miss LEUNG Yin-mai
Clerk in attendance :
Staff in attendance :
- Ms Doris CHAN
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4
- Ms Joanne MAK
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 9 October 1997 and matters arising
1.The Chairman informed members that as the Administration had not been able to provide comments on the draft minutes within the prescribed time, the minutes would be confirmed at the next meeting.
II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
2.To avoid clashing with an extended Transport Panel meeting on 9 January 1998, members agreed to re-schedule the next meeting to 14 January 1998 at 8:30 am and to discuss the following items -
- Neighbourhood Level Community Development Projects (NLCDPs);
- Shortage of Social Security Assistants and effect on the quality of social security services; and
- Review of community centres and sites for development of such centres to make available premises/land for welfare services.
3.With regard to item (a), members agreed to discuss as well whether the provision of NLCDPs should be extended to Interim Housing areas. As regards item (c), the Chairman suggested inviting the Secretary for the Treasury and representatives from the Home Affairs Bureau to join the discussion.
(Post-meeting note : At the request of the Administration, the Chairman agreed to postpone item (a) to the meeting in February 1998 when the Administration was in a better position to brief members on the latest development of NLCDPs.)
III. Employment situation of fresh social work graduates
(PLC Papers Nos. CB(2) 713 (01) - (03) )
4.A representative of the Social Work Graduate Employment Concern Group (the Concern Group) said that the unemployment problem of the fresh social work graduates had been caused by the following -
- Failure to implement the welfare services as committed by the Administration and slippages of projects; and
- inaccurate manpower projections made by the Social Welfare Manpower Planning System (SWPMS).
The representative said that according to the Social Welfare Manpower Planning System Report No. 9, the Government anticipated that 70% of the fresh social work graduates would get jobs in the social work sector and there would be a shortfall in the supply of social work diploma graduates. However, recent surveys conducted by the Concern Group had found that 60% of social work degree graduates and 40% of social work diploma graduates remained unemployed. Moreover, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) had not been able to provide figures to substantiate its claim that the variations were attributable to increased supply of overseas returnees.
5.The representative also drew members attention to the fact that the survey conducted by the Concern Group had covered almost every fresh social work graduate of the six tertiary institutions, whereas that done by the Administration had only covered graduates of three tertiary institutions.
6.The representative further criticized that the growth of 9.4% in recurrent funding on welfare services was inadequate as it was mainly caused by increases in expenditure on the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). In particular, development in the provision of direct services was very limited and there was underprovision of social welfare services. For example, SWD had asked the social centres for the elderly to adopt the policy of open membership without considering the limited resources of these centres. Since the centres were each manned by only one social worker, the staff had great problem in coping with the large increase in the number of members. The representative also criticized the quality of elderly services which had only focused on the provision of recreational and health care services to the elderly and neglected their emotional problems and needs for counselling services. In the aspect of family casework, the representative said that the recent news of a family caseworker committing suicide had thrown light on the stress suffered by family caseworkers as a result of heavy workload. Therefore, the Concern Group was dissatisfied with the Administration's policy of not providing 23 additional family caseworkers because the Administration considered that the overall manning ratio of 1 to 70 for family caseworkers had been achieved in 1996/97. The representative pointed out that the manning ratio of 1 to 70 was only the interim target drawn up in the Five-Year Plan of SWD in 1989 and its long-term target of manning ratio had been set at 1 to 50. She also criticized the current school social work manning ratio which remained as 1 to 2,000 and the Administration's failure to achieve a manning ratio of 1 to 1,000 for all "band 5" schools.
7.Commenting on the projection method of the Administration, the representative said that the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB) should not count the fresh social work graduates who had taken up other jobs as non-entrants because they would probably continue to look for jobs in social work field. She said that for those who insisted to work in the field of social work, they might have to compete with the graduates next year if they still could not find employment then. She considered that if they were counted as non-entrants, the projected supply of manpower next year would be underestimated.
8.On behalf of the Concern Group, the representative made the following requests -
- the Administration should urgently implement welfare policies which had been committed, such as providing one social worker for each school and achieving a manning ratio of 1 to 50 for family casework;
- the Administration should release the number of additional Social Work Officer (SWO) and Social Work Assistant (SWA) posts to be created before the end of the current financial year. Such information should be also released every year;
- the Administration should address the needs of the society for welfare services and provide adequate services. For example, the number of social workers for the social centres for the elderly should be increased and school social workers be provided for primary schools;
- the Administration should ensure a better match in supply and demand in the social work discipline;
- the Administration should promptly address the unemployment problem of fresh social work graduates; and
- an ad hoc group be set up by this Panel to monitor the matching of manpower training, the progress in the implementation of welfare services and the allocation of land for construction of welfare facilities.
9.Mr LAU Kong-wah recalled that the White Paper on Social Welfare (1991) had anticipated "a serious shortage of manpower in the next few years". He was worried that the unemployment problem under discussion might have reflected that there was serious underprovision of welfare services in Hong Kong. He considered that the Administration should address the problem of overworkload of social workers as mentioned by the representatives of the Concern Group.
10.Asked by Mr LAU to estimate the employment situation of social work graduates next year, a representative of the Concern Group said that she was pessimistic because many of the fresh social work graduates had remained unemployed and some of them might still be looking for jobs in the social work field next year. Given there was continual expansion of social work courses in the tertiary institutions, she believed that the unemployment problem of social work graduates would be exacerbated next year. She added that although the Social Welfare Manpower Planning System Report No. 9 set out that 377 degree graduates would be required next year, only 122 new SWO posts would be created.
11.In response to Mr LAU's enquiry, the representative said that there were 535 diploma and 354 degree graduates this year; and the Administration had estimated that 513 diploma graduates were needed next year.
12.Mr HUI Yin-fat supported the views of the Concern Group, and criticized the Secretary for Health and Welfare (SHW) as being evasive in answering his question on this subject raised at the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) meeting held on 10 December 1997. Mr HUI pointed out that it was wasting a lot of public money to have trained up a group of social work graduates who could not get employment in the social work sector. Moreover, he was worried that the unemployment problem would deter students from entering the social work discipline.
13.The Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3) (DS(HW)3) said that SWD had managed to obtain information from the Chinese University, the Baptist University and the Polytechnic University regarding the employment situation of their 181 degree graduates, accounting for about 50% of the total. Of the 181 degree graduates, 80% (145) had found jobs, including 70 who had joined the social work profession. The institutions had also recorded that out of their 358 diploma graduates (67% of the total) this year, 70% (240) had been employed as SWA. Another 16% (57) had taken up employment for which social work qualifications were not a prerequisite. DS(HW)3 said that a formal survey would be conducted by the University Grants Committee later and the results would be made available in May 1998. In the meantime, SWD was waiting for the City University and University of Hong Kong to provide information on the employment situation of their fresh social work graduates.
14.DS(HW)3 emphasized that the manpower projection exercise was based on the information available at the time when the projection figures were compiled. Variations were inevitable due to lapse of time and changes in the circumstances. For example, the actual wastage rate of SWO grade had fallen from 6.8% in 1992/93 to 2.1% in 1996/97. For the SWA grade, the respective figures were 11.6% and 8.1%. Last year, the wastage rates of the SWO and the SWA grades were estimated to be 163 and 316 respectively, but the actual figures were only 76 and 225 respectively. DS(HW)3 said that 13 SWO and 50 SWA posts had not been created this year due to slippages in welfare projects, but SWD and HWB would make every effort to materialize these posts in the next financial year. The Administration would also make every effort to minimize slippages to ensure that projects were completed on time.
15.The Chairman suggested that the Administration should survey among the fresh social work graduates so that SWD could have first hand information on the numbers of unemployed graduates involved. In response, the Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) (DD(S) ) said that SWD had been conducting meetings with the Concern Group to address their concerns. She acknowledged that there were inconsistencies in the unemployment figures held by the Administration and the Concern Group. However, she would rather wait for the City University and the University of Hong Kong to reply as by then, she would have a clearer picture of the situation. If the two Universities confirmed that they could not provide the information to SWD, she would further explore the Chairman's suggestion which, however, might involve some technical problems which had to be resolved first. She was also worried that not all the fresh social work graduates would respond to the survey.
16.Representatives of the Concern Group considered that the Administration should adopt the survey results obtained by the Concern Group since it had covered almost every fresh social work graduate. She agreed that some of the graduates might not be willing to respond to the Administration if they did not know whether the survey would serve any useful purpose.
17.In response to Mrs Elsie TU's enquiry, DS(HW)3 said that the blister programme for social work diploma students would end in 1998. Responding to Mrs TU's comment that the provision of school social work service should be improved, DS(HW)3 said that there was a Working Group chaired by SWD looking into the issue. In view of the different needs of different schools, the Administration had to carefully look at the implications of effecting any policy changes. DD(S) added that the review would hopefully be completed by March 1998. There would then be a consultation exercise on the recommendations of the review.
18.Mr Frederick FUNG considered it unsatisfactory that only about 50% of degree graduates this year had joined the social work profession. He asked the Administration what had caused slippages of welfare projects, and what remedial action the Administration would take.
19.In reply, DS(HW)3 said that SWD had been closely monitoring the development of individual projects but there were some unanticipated slippages, which could be caused by difficulties in purchasing premises suitable for social welfare services, delay in construction and fitting out works, and other technical problems. SWD would liaise with the responsible government departments to make sure that slippages were kept to absolute minimum. He added that recurrent expenditure on welfare services had increased considerably from $7.6 billion in 1992/93 to $19.5 billion in 1997/98, and in terms of direct services from $3.2 billion in 1992/93 to $7.6 billion in the current year. However, Mr Frederick FUNG commented that, taking into account the targets set by the Government in its social welfare plan of 1990, the increases mentioned by DS(HW)3 were inadequate.
20.Mr Howard YOUNG considered that the Administration should review the manpower situation to avoid oversupply of manpower. He also requested the Administration to see whether or not it was normal, compared with other disciplines, for only 50% of the social work degree graduates to be able to get jobs in the welfare field. Moreover, the curriculum of social work should be reviewed to ensure that the graduates would be adaptable in other fields.
21.Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung asked the Administration if it considered that it had the responsibility to solve the unemployment problem of the fresh social work graduates. In response, DD(S) said that the unemployment problem had been caused by a combination of unforseeable factors which had affected the manpower demand. For example, there was a large number of returnees to compete for the jobs. Nevertheless, the Administration would make every effort to speed up the development of any welfare projects which had slippages, and to conduct recruitment speedily whenever vacancies arose. She explained that the Social Welfare Manpower Planning System (SWMPS) was maintained by SWD, with input and advice from the Joint Committee on SWMPS comprising representatives from SWD and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service. The projections done in 1991 had been approved by the Advisory Committee on Social Work Training and Manpower Planning and the Social Welfare Advisory Committee.
22.Mr TAM Yiu-chung enquired if any welfare services had been withheld because funding had been vired to meet large increases in expenditure on CSSA. In response, DD(S) said that CSSA was a separate item of expenditure. It was slippage of welfare projects which had put on hold creation of approved posts.
23.Miss CHAN Yuen-han pointed out that unemployment problem of social work graduates had existed for one to two years and it was necessary for the Administration to take concrete measures to resolve the problem promptly.
24.On conclusion, the Chairman requested the Administration to provide the following information before the next meeting -
- projection of manpower demand in the long term; and
- proposed measures to solve the unemployment problem of the fresh social work graduates.
25.DS(HW)3 said that the Administration was in the midst of producing Social Welfare Manpower Report No. 10 but probably would not have the final and detailed figures available before the next meeting. However, he undertook to provide more information on the methodology used in the projection exercise, even though details of the actual figures would not be ready until March 1998. He revealed that the employment situation of the fresh social work graduates would be taken into consideration in the projection exercise. DD(S) undertook to conduct discussions with the Concern Group to seek their views on the approach of a survey to be conducted by SWD for seeking information on the employment situation of all the fresh social work graduates. The Chairman requested the Administration to report the progress achieved and the concrete measures it proposed for solving the unemployment problem before the next meeting.
IV. Study on elderly CSSA recipients
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 582 (01) )
26.The Chairman left the meeting at this point due to other urgent commitments. The Deputy Chairman took the chair for the rest of the meeting.
27.The Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (2) (DS(HW)2) said that the survey study under discussion sought to ascertain the needs of the elderly CSSA recipients and their consumption pattern. The survey found that many of the elderly CSSA recipients had spent their money, in addition to meeting their basic needs, on items like buying gifts, eating out and social interaction. Noting the results of the survey, the Administration had decided to suitably increase the CSSA payment for the elderly recipients.
28.In response to Mr CHOY Kan-pui's enquiry, DS(HW)2 said that the current amount of asset limit for application of CSSA was $35,000 which was adjusted annually to take into account inflation. Based on the survey study, 78% of the respondents found the existing level of the asset limit reasonable. Only 22% of the respondents considered that the asset limit should be relaxed and the median amount of asset limit proposed by them was $50,000.
29.Mr LEE Kai-ming considered that a majority of the respondents accepted the level of the asset limit because they were able to meet the criterion. He suggested the Administration to conduct another survey targetting at those who failed to meet the criterion of asset limit. In response, DS(HW)2 said that Professor Nelson CHOW was conducting a survey study on non-CSSA elderly recipients which would seek respondents views on the current level of the asset limit. The Administration would take into account the findings of the survey in considering whether or not to relax the asset limit.
30.Miss CHAN Yuen-han noted from the survey study that 66.1% of the respondents considered the amount of CSSA inadequate, and the median value of the proposed increase was $500. She asked how the Administration would respond to these views. DS(HW)2 replied that, in deciding the additional amount of CSSA monthly payment for the elderly CSSA recipients, the Administration had taken the following into account -
- the results of the survey study;
- the motion passed early this year by PLC urging the Government to increase a monthly payment of not less than $300 to elderly CSSA recipients;
- there was a real increase of 40% in standard payment for the elderly CSSA recipients from 1993 to 1998; and
- the financial impact of the CSSA expenditure on the society.
DS(HW)2 considered that the increase of $380 in monthly CSSA payment was a reasonable amount. Miss CHAN Yuen-han said that she welcomed the move of the Government to increase the CSSA payment for the elderly recipients. However, the Administration should also address the elderly CSSA recipients different needs such as their medical needs. The Deputy Chairman said that the additional amount of $380 was inadequate and he personally considered that the increase should be $600. He said that it was meaningless to look at the increase only without considering whether the actual amount of the CSSA payment was adequate to meet the practical needs of the elderly recipients. He urged the Administration to conduct a review on the subject.
31.Miss CHAN Yuen-han asked if the Administration would re-visit the Old Age Pension Scheme (OPS). In response, DS(HW)2 considered that the subject was outside the scope of discussion on this agenda item and OPS was not within the jurisdiction of HWB. As OPS had been thoroughly discussed at the last meeting, the Deputy Chairman agreed not to pursue the matter at this meeting.
32.Noting from the survey that about 12% of the elderly CSSA recipients had sought treatment from Chinese herbalists, Mr LEE Kai-ming enquired whether the Administration would provide any subsidies to the elderly CSSA recipients in this regard. In reply, DS(HW)2 said that the Administration would not be able to consider this at least until a mechanism for registration of qualified Chinese medicine practitioners was in place. He added that free Chinese medicine out-patient consultation service was available at the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and the service had been quite widely publicized.
33.Mrs Elsie TU said that through her contacts with elderly CSSA recipients, few of them had complained about inadequacy of CSSA payment. She considered that what the elderly CSSA recipients needed most was public rental housing and the provision of more Chinese medicine out-patient consultation service.
34.In response, DS(HW)2 said that the Housing Authority had pledged to provide 30,000 additional public rental flats for the elderly by 2002 and the Hong Kong Housing Society would also introduce a "Senior Citizens Residence Scheme". SWD was also helping those with warranted needs to get public rental housing through the compassionate housing scheme. Responding to Mrs TU's comment that the concerned authorities were slow in processing applications under the scheme, the Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration) (DD(A)) explained that the long waiting time had actually been caused by the fact that some applicants did not accept the locations of the public rental flats allocated to them. These applicants would only accept public rental flats at their preferred locations. Mrs TU took the view that the Housing Department should recover quickly empty premises especially those in the old districts which had been used for storage only by tenants. The Deputy Chairman requested the Administration to refer Mrs TU's comment to the responsible Department for follow-up action.
V. Subvented residential care places for the elderly
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 713 (04) )
35.DS(HW)2 introduced the various types of residential care services for elderly in need and the number of places available -
- 968 self-care hostels places were available for elderly persons who were capable of self-care;
- Some 6,000 subvented home for the aged places were available for elderly persons who were unable to live independently;
- Some 8,000 subvented care-and-attention home places were available for elderly persons suffering from poor health or physical / mental disabilities; and
- A total of 1,400 nursing home places would be provided by 1998/99 to render medical, nursing and personal care to the elderly persons.
DS(HW)2 said that there were some 16,000 subvented, some 2,000 self-financing and about 20,000 private residential care places. The Administration also aimed to raise the standard of the private homes for the aged through the Bought Place Scheme and licensing legislation.
36.Referring to the acute shortage of residential care places as reported by the media recently, the Deputy Chairman asked whether the Administration had any concrete measures to increase the supply of elderly home places. DS(HW)2 said that the Chief Executive had tasked the Elderly Commission to assess the demand for residential care places and to recommend a strategy to meet the long-term needs. The Administration would also increase the supply of residential care places by the following ways -
- increasing the number of subvented places;
- encouraging the non-profit making organizations to increase their supply of self-financing places; and
- enhancing the Bought Place Scheme with a target of purchasing additional 2,400 places in the next three years.
The Administration had targetted to increase the overall supply by some 8,000 places in the next four years.
37.Referring to (c) above, the Deputy Chairman enquired whether the Administration would consider to further expand the Bought Place Scheme. In reply, DS(HW)2 said that development of the Scheme would be subject to the availability of private residential care places which were of good quality.
38.In response to Mr LO Suk-ching s enquiry, DS(HW)2 said that for the time being, the Administration would not explore proposals of building and operating residential care institutions in the Mainland as such proposals would involve many practical problems which had to be resolved first. He also doubted whether the elderly in need were willing to move to the Mainland to reside in the elderly homes there. The Administration would therefore continue its efforts to provide residential care places within Hong Kong.
39.Noting that there were some 20,000 elderly persons on the waiting list for residential care service, the Deputy Chairman doubted whether it was adequate to increase by 8,000 places in the next four years. In reply, DS(HW)2 explained that not all the 20,000 elderly persons needed a place at the moment. Some of them only played safe and made applications for residential care service in advance. Therefore, the Administration would conduct a sample survey of the elderly persons concerned to find out how many of them were in genuine need of residential care service. When the information was available, the Administration would know more accurately the demand and supply levels of residential care places. He also pointed out that the supply of residential care places varied from time to time because places were vacated for various reasons such as death of occupants. At the Deputy Chairman's enquiry, DS(HW)2 said that the assessment work was underway and it would be completed within the first half of 1998.
40.Mr LEE Kai-ming enquired whether the Administration had any plans to accommodate the elderly people released from private homes which had to close down due to failure to comply with licensing requirements. In reply, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Elderly and Medical Social Services) (AD(EM)) said that SWD had tried every possible way, including provision of financial assistance, to help private homes to make improvements for meeting the statutory standards. So far, none of the private homes was found to have insurmountable structural problems which had rendered them unsuitable for running elderly homes. There was one private home found operating under substandard conditions and the operator had been prosecuted and convicted. In that case, SWD had considered beforehand whether the prosecution would cause the private home to close down and a contingency plan to accommodate the elderly inmates concerned should it cease operation. AD(EM) said that there were emergency placements in each subvented residential care institution to cope with sudden closedown of private home.
41.The meeting ended at 12:45 pm.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
16 February 1998