Report of the Panel on Welfare Services
for submission to the Provisional Legislative Council
This report gives an account of the work of the Panel on Welfare Services during the term of the Provisional Legislative Council. It will be tabled at the meeting of the Council on 1 April 1998 in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council.
2. The Panel was formed by a resolution of this Council on 16 July 1997 for the purpose of monitoring and examining Government policies and issues of public concern relating to welfare services matters. The terms of reference of the Panel are in Appendix I.
3. The Panel comprises 21 members. Hon WONG Siu-yee and Hon CHAN Choi-hi were elected Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Panel respectively. The membership list of the Panel is in Appendix II.
Welfare services for the elderly
4. Welfare services for the elderly was a major concern of the Panel. In addition to discussing with the Administration the implementation of the recommendations of the Working Group on Care for the Elderly, the Panel discussed the study on elderly recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Following the announcement by the Chief Executive in his Policy Address that the annual Chinese New Year Grant and Social Recreational Activities Grant for the elderly under the CSSA Scheme would be combined and increased from an annual amount of $550 to an additional monthly payment of $380 with effect from 1 April 1998, the Panel held a special meeting in October 1997 to urge the Administration to commence the additional monthly payment with immediate effect.
5. Members were also concerned about the supply of subvented residential care places for the elderly and the staffing provisions in private homes for the elderly. Following discussion with the Administration on its plans to increase the supply of residential care places in December 1997, the Panel discussed with the Administration at two Panel meetings the outcome of the review of the management and planning standards of community centres and a separate review of sites reserved for development of such centres. Members noted that the former review which was completed in early 1996 had concluded that the vast majority of the existing community centres/halls should be retained and that only a small number had potential for redevelopment. Members noted that the second review which was completed in early 1997 had concluded that about half of the 67 sites could either be immediately released for other purposes or could be released subject to the provision of a community hall at an alternative Government complex in the locality. The other half of the sites were to be pursued with compatible joint users. Members expressed their dissatisfaction with the length of time taken by the Administration to complete the two reviews and urged the early release of premises and land for development into welfare facilities.
Old age pension scheme
6. The Panel invited representatives of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Hong Kong Social Security Society and the Federation of Trade Unions to present their views on the need for an old age pension scheme. The Administration explained that it had studied various options before deciding to adopt the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) Scheme. Moreover, the CSSA was available to those who had immediate financial needs. Members considered that the Administration had neither addressed the points raised by members and the deputations concerning the lack of retirement protection for the elderly, housewives and people with a disability under the MPF Scheme nor the increasing financial burden caused to the society by CSSA payments. The Panel urged the Administration to further study the matter and explore the various proposals put forward by members and deputations at the meeting.
Review of the social welfare subvention system
7. The Panel was briefed on the background of the review of the social welfare subvention system and the new funding formula for subventing welfare non-governmental organisations. The Panel met representatives of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and two staff associations to listen to their views. Following discussion at the special meeting held for purpose, the Administration undertook not to implement the proposal before full consultation had been conducted and agreement was reached.
Employment situation of fresh social work graduates
8. The Panel also closely monitored the employment situation of fresh social work graduates. Members urged the Administration to address the slippage in the development of projects, increase the number of social work posts to fulfill its services pledges and review the supply and demand of social work graduates.
Shortage of Social Security Assistants
9. The Panel also noted with concern the shortage of Social Security Assistants at a time when the number of CSSA cases was continuing to increase. Members were worried that easement measures such as cutting down home visits by 90% would lead to more abuse of the system. They also noted that without home visits, the staff concerned would not be able to detect any changes in the family circumstances of the elderly and to note their needs for services or supplies. While the Administration emphasized that home visits only formed part of the investigation process, members shared the view that home visits were very important and sufficient staff should be employed to cope with the workload. The Panel also urged the Administration to review the CSSA application and investigation procedures to streamline the work procedures and to prevent abuses.
Neighbourhood Level Coummunity Development Projects
10. The Panel also followed up on the progress of the Review of Pilot Neighbourhood Level Community Development Projects in Old Urban Areas. Two deputations were invited to present their views on the matter at the Panel meeting in February 1998. Although the Review Group had already submitted its report to the Secretary for Home Affairs, members were informed that the Administration was still considering the report and it was inappropriate to release the report to the Panel before recommendations had been made to the Executive Council (ExCo). The Panel Chairman wrote to the Convenor of ExCo urging ExCo Members not to consider the recommendations until the Panel had a chance to discuss and comment on the report.
Other matters discussed
11. Other matters discussed by the Panel included home help services, welfare services for new arrivals from the Mainland, the findings of a research on juvenile gangs and runaway youth, social problems caused by the separation of children from their mothers who had no right of abode in Hong Kong, the proposal for a Social Welfare Services Development Fund, the White Paper on Social Welfare and review of the CSSA Scheme. The Panel also discussed the poverty problem at the Panel meeting in October 1997 and following the discussion, the Panel asked the Research and Library Services Division of the Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat to conduct a research on poverty line. In addition, the Panel was consulted on the Information Systems Strategy Study and Computerised Social Security System of the Social Welfare Department, CSSA/SSA Supplementary Provision and Inflationary Adjustment, a proposal to create two directorate posts in the Health and Welfare Bureau as well as the remuneration for the chairperson, honoraria for non-official members and allowance for witnesses of the Guardianship Board to be established under the Mental Health Ordinance.
12. From July 1997 to March 1998, the Panel held a total of 12 meetings and met
13 deputations comprising 49 representatives of various organisations at the meetings. The Panel visited a residential care home for the elderly, two elderly centres as well as a children and youth centre.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
12 March 1998