Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)2672/98-99
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 1 February 1999 at 8:30 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members Absent:

Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public Officers Assistance:

Item III - Review of the Comprehensive Social Security Attending
(CSSA) Scheme - result of public consultation

Mr HO Wing-him
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare 2

Director of Social Welfare

Mrs Louise WONG, JP
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)

Mr LO Chi-hong
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Welfare) 1

Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)

Item IV - Report of Evaluation Study on the Social Networking for the Elderly

Mr HO Wing-him
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare 2

Mrs Eliza LEUNG
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) (Ag)

Mr Lawrence LIU
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare
(Elderly Services)2

Mrs Kathy NG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Elderly)(Ag)

Assistant Director (Elderly Health Services)
Department of Health

Mr MA Shue-yuen
Chief Manager/Management (YTF)
Housing Department

Miss Kitty WONG
Housing Manager/Estate Liaison Officer Scheme
Housing Department

Prof. Nelson CHOW
Consultant, Evaluation Study of Social
Networking for the Elderly Project
Deputations Attending:
Society for Community Organisation
Mr NG Wai-tung

Ms FOK Tin-man
Elderly Rights League (Hong Kong)

Ms TAM Dip-wan
Mr PANG Wai-sing
Ms CHU Fung-han
Mr LAM Pui-shan
Ms TANG Shan-shan
Clerk in Attendance:
Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4
Staff in Attendance:
Mrs Eleanor CHOW
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4
I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 9 November 1998 and matters arising
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1139/98-99)

The minutes of meeting held on 9 November 1998 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(01))

2. The Chairman informed Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare 2 (DS(HW)2) that the Panel wished to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting scheduled for 8 March 1999 at 10:45 am -

  1. Implementation of the Enhanced Productivity Programme in Social Welfare Department (SWD) and welfare agencies;

  2. Funding problems of welfare agencies faced with the prospect of reduced subsidy from the Community Chest; and

  3. Lotteries Fund.
DS(HW)2 agreed to further confirm with the Clerk on the discussion items for the next meeting.

3. Members noted the list of discussion items (Appendix of LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(01)) proposed by the Administration. DS(HW)2 suggested and members agreed to include short briefings to be conducted by the Administration on the following issues at a future meeting -

  1. Outcome of the Consultation on Review of the Adoption Ordinance; and

  2. Guardianship Board - Allowances.
Regular meetings scheduled for the period from April to July 1999

4. Members noted that the following dates for regular meetings -

14 April 1999; )
10 May 1999; )
14 June 1999; and ) 10:45 am
12 July 1999 )

III. Review of the CSSA Scheme - result of public consultation
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(02))

5. At the invitation of the Chairman, DS(HW)2 briefed members on the Administration's paper which contained the following main points -

  1. The public had actively responded during the six-week public consultation period ending on 20 January 1999. The Administration had distributed 22 000 copies of the review report and 210 000 copies of the executive summary of the report. Briefings and meetings were held with various public and private organisations on the proposed new measures. The Administration also attended radio and television programmes and conducted an opinion survey on the package of proposals. In addition, it responded to a Legislative Council motion debate on the CSSA review on 13 January 1999;

  2. The Social Welfare Advisory Council (SWAC) had conducted two special meetings to discuss the review report. It had expressed concerns about -

    1. the effectiveness of the Active Employment Assistance (AEA) Scheme;

    2. the basis for the proposed adjustments to standard rates; and

    3. whether the community work programme might stigmatise the participants.
    At its second special meeting, most SWAC's members supported the objectives of the review. However, they expressed serious concern about the proposal of requiring single parents to actively seek work when their youngest child reached the age of 12.

  3. Three briefings had been held for Provisional District Board (PDB) members. Representatives of the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB) and SWD also attended ten meetings of PDBs or their subcommittees. At the PDB meetings (including Kowloon City, Tai Po, Yuen Long and Southern), most members present were in support of the objectives and the proposals in the review report. However, there were concerns about the arrangements under the community work programme and the proposal of requiring single parents to seek work when their youngest child reached the age of 12. At some other PDBs (including Wong Tai Sin, Tuen Mun, Sham Shui Po), members had diverse views on the proposals. At the other PDBs (including Central & Western, Kwun Tong and Wan Chai), most of the members who spoke at the meetings had strong reservations about the proposals in the review report.

  4. The Heung Yee Kuk had passed a motion and unanimously supported the package of proposals put forward in the CSSA review report. They strongly supported the objective of self-reliance which had been a key to the economic success of Hong Kong.

  5. At a gathering attended by over one hundred office bearers of various kaifong associations, the representatives were in strong support of the objective of the review report.
Opinion Survey conducted by the Administration

6. DS(HW)2 briefed members on the findings of an opinion survey conducted by a market research company commissioned by HWB -

  1. 98% of the respondents agreed that the proposed tightening measures should not affect recipients who were old, disabled or ill-health;

  2. 93% agreed that CSSA assistance should be terminated for those unemployed CSSA recipients with working ability but refused to seek work without acceptable reasons;

  3. 86% supported the proposal of requiring unemployed CSSA recipients with working ability to do community work; and

  4. 68% agreed to proposed reductions in CSSA payments for households with three or more able-bodied members; and

  5. 55% agreed to the proposal of requiring single parents to seek work whereas 40% disagreed.
Opinions surveys conducted by various organisations and views expressed in the media/general public

7. DS(HW)2 pointed out that the results of seven opinions surveys conducted by various organizations during the consultation period were set out in the paper. He briefed members on the views expressed by 13 local newspapers in their editorials, highlighting that 12 of them were in support of the objective of the review. There were more concerns about the need of children aged between 12 and 15 of single parent families for more parental care.

8. DS(HW)2 said that through various phone-in programmes of the media, most callers had expressed support for the objective of the review. They had considered it a kind of "abuse" for those cases involving able-bodied adults who gave up working and relied on the CSSA scheme.

9. DS(HW)2 informed members that, up to 20 January 1999, SWD had received a total of 2 602 submissions. As the Administration wanted to study carefully the large influx of submissions received during the last few days of the consultation period, there was some delay preparing this information paper for the Panel. DS(HW)2 apologized for the delay and the inconvenience caused.

Questions raised by members

10. Mr LAW Chi-kwong enquired about details of the views expressed by the welfare sector during this consultation exercise which were not included in the Administration's paper. In addition, he noted that at present a CSSA recipient was entitled to the provision of disregarded earnings if he worked not less than 120 hours and was paid not less than $3 200 per month for his work. He considered that the Administration should take into consideration that these requirements had been criticized as too harsh and would only create disincentives to work. As regards the Asset Limit, Mr LAW requested the Administration to consider the suggestions that the value of an owner-occupied residential property should be exempted from the asset test for cases involving single parent families with young children.

11. In response, DS(HW)2 explained that the paper tabled at the meeting presented only the Administration's preliminary analysis of the views expressed during the consultation period. The Administration would conduct a more in-depth study on all the views collected, including those from the welfare sector and the suggestions mentioned by Mr LAW, and then further report on the findings.

12. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan considered that the Administration tended to present only those views in favour of the Administration's proposals in the paper. He recalled that during the motion debate on the CSSA review on 13 January 1999, some members had already criticized that the public survey conducted was misleading. In response to Mr LEE's enquiry about the cost of the survey, DS(HW)2 said that about $170 000 to $180 000 had been spent. He explained that there was no question of the survey being misleading. The wording of the questions followed exactly the relevant proposals in the Review Report. Moreover, he noted that the views collected in the survey were consistent with the results of the seven opinion surveys conducted by various organisations.

13. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan referred to paragraph 39 of the Administration's paper and requested the Administration to provide detailed information on the views of the 2 602 submissions received by SWD, including a breakdown on the submissions. In response, DS(HW)2 said that most of the submissions (about 1 900) neither expressed support nor were opposed to the package of recommendations as a whole. They instead commented on certain proposals. Many submissions expressed reservations about the proposals of requiring singles parents to actively seek work when their youngest child reached the age of 12 and requiring unemployed CSSA recipients to perform community work. They had also suggested some alternative arrangements. DS(HW)2 explained that since these submissions were only received on the last three days of the consultation period, the Administration needed more time to study their views. As for the rest of the 600-plus submissions, DS(HW)2 said that, as already set out in the paper, 269 supported the package of recommendations and 406 opposed.

14. Dr YEUNG Sum noted that the welfare sector including the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union and Hong Kong Social Workers Association Limited had actively expressed their views during the consultation period. He requested the Administration to provide further information to the Panel after studying their views. Dr YEUNG Sum also supported Mr LEE Cheuk-yan's request for more detailed information on the views expressed in the 2 602 submissions. In addition, he queried why that paragraph 42 of the Administration's paper did not include the suggestion that it would be more worthwhile to redeploy the resources required for arranging community work to provide comprehensive employment services to the unemployed recipients. Furthermore, he noted that many single parent families faced with the problem of being unable to get alimony. He requested the Administration to take into account the plight of single parent families, which constituted 70% of the three-member households on the CSSA Scheme, in its proposal of reducing standard rates for larger households. In response, DS(HW)2 said that the Administration noted all the above and he undertook to include the views of the welfare sector and the Administration's deliberations on the above suggestions in its final analysis.

15. Mr Fred LI noted that some CSSA recipients had expressed their views to the Administration. He asked the Administration whether these views had been included under "Views expressed by the general public". DS(HW)2 replied that they were included in the 2 602 submissions and agreed to consider them separately.

16. Mr Fred LI strongly criticized the Administration for misrepresenting the views of the academics in paragraph 35. He pointed out that most of the academics were opposed to the recommendations of the review (particularly the proposed reduction of standard rate) and they had made many practical counter-proposals. However, he was dismayed to find that all these views had not been included in the paper. He questioned which academics were in support of the review's proposals and requested the Administration to provide the details. In addition, he was dissatisfied with the Administration's approach used in paragraphs 41 to 47 in that there was only a general description of the opinions collected without quantifying the number of public submissions which were in support of or against the recommendations of the review.

17. In response, DS(HW)2 said that the Administration could elaborate more the views of the academics in its final analysis. He said that their views were diverse on the package of recommendations. As regards the request for quantifying the public views expressed, DS(HW)2 explained some of the technical problems involved and expressed his doubts about the accuracy of quantifying the public views based on the views expressed in the phone-in programmes of the media and so on. He considered that in contrast, the opinion survey conducted by the Administration was much more reliable in assessing the level of public support for the proposed measures. Nevertheless, he agreed to provide more detailed information on the 2 602 submissions including a classification of their views. Mr Fred LI stressed that he did not ever suggest to quantify the public views based on the phone-in programmes. He said that he had only requested the Administration to quantify its analysis based on the written submissions received by SWD. Furthermore, he considered that the Administration's opinion survey was misleading.

18. Miss Cyd HO noted that there were many constructive proposals made by members of the public and CSSA recipients on broader issues during the consultation period, such as how to help the poor to get rid of poverty and to enhance the chances of the CSSA recipients in getting jobs by improving job placement services, child maintenance board, adult education, child care services and so on. She requested the Administration to include these views in the final report. DS(HW)2 agreed to include suggestions made on these broader issues arising from the discussion on the CSSA review in the final report.

19. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration) (DD(A)) briefed members on the Active Employment Assistance (AEA) programme which would replace the requirement for the unemployed applicants to register with the Labour Department (LD). Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security) (AD(SS)) added that the Administration would meet representatives from the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to consider how they could improve their training courses for the Employees Retraining Board to make them more meaningful both to the employers and the CSSA recipients. Similarly, SWD had invited the General Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries to give their opinions on the training courses. Additional funds had been secured from the Lotteries Fund to strengthen the computer support for the Social Security Field Unit (SSFU) so that it could access instantly the database of employment vacancies of LD. In this way, CSSA recipients could find out right on the spot in SSFU what vacancies were available for them. SWD was planning the details of the AEA programme. It was intended to provide a one-to-one caseworker/customer session to the unemployed CSSA recipient when he signed up to seek work at SSFU. During the session, the caseworker would explain to him some of the aspects of the AEA programme such as the provision of disregarded earning. The caseworker would work out with the CSSA recipient a tailor made plan for the recipient to get back to work taking into account the educational background and working experience of the recipient. However, AD(SS) added that it had been found that the CSSA recipients tended to have low motivation for making use of the self-referral mechanism in LD and looking for jobs. So the proposed measures would also aim to address motivational issues as well.

20. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan considered that the Administration should not have said that all the CSSA recipients had low motivation for work. He noted that the success rate in finding jobs for a batch of some 800 CSSA recipients after attending a retraining course was about 50%, which was about the same as the general success rate of other participants who had completed similar retraining programmes. He considered that the Administration should take into account the fact that in general, employment opportunities were limited.

21. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan questioned whether SWD would assess the wage level of the jobs available for the CSSA recipients and would not force them to accept work at an unreasonable wage level. In response, DD(A) explained that the AEA programme did not require a CSSA recipient to reveal to his prospective employer that he was on the CSSA scheme. In this way, they could negotiate for the salary based on the market trend. She also assured members that the Administration would not force a CSSA recipient to accept a job if its wage level was generally considered too low by both SWD and LD.

22. The Chairman requested the Administration to take into account members' views in finalizing its report on the CSSA review and to provide a copy of the report to the Panel when it was available for submission to the Executive Council. DS(HW)2 agreed.

IV. Report of Evaulation Study on the Social Networking for the Elderly Project and measures taken under the social networking mechanism during cold spells to assist the vulnerable single elderly
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(03), (04) and (05))

23. At the Chairman's invitation to express their views, representatives of the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) made the following points -

  1. The Administration should strengthen medical care for the elderly and give more attention to the health conditions of the singleton elderly;

  2. The Administration should consider lowering the age requirement from 70 to 60 for singleton elderly to be eligible for the financial assistance from SWD to install emergency alarm bells in their homes. SWD should also take the initiative to install emergency alarm bells for the 200 000 singleton elderly in Hong Kong;

  3. There had been cases that some singleton elderly needed to urgently approach volunteers for help but were unable to reach them through the SWD hotline. Therefore, the Administration should strengthen the manpower of the Support Teams to ensure that prompt services could be provided to these singleton elderly in need;

  4. Staff of the Housing Department (HD) should assist to report back to SWD when they found singleton elderly who needed the emergency alarm bells on health grounds;

  5. The representatives were dissatisfied that, of some 200 000 singleton elderly in Hong Kong, only about 14 600 were served by the Social Networking for the Elderly Project and about 7 100 were matched with volunteers. They considered that the figures reflected the problem of manpower shortage of the project. They took the view that at least 100 000 singleton elderly should have been covered by the project;

  6. The representatives were dissatisfied that there were only two Outreaching Teams for the Elderly for Wanchai and Tsuen Wan and that the Administration had decided not to develop the service. They requested that these teams should be provided in every district;

  7. At present, only about 40 000 elderly people living in elderly homes had been provided with free vaccinations against influenza. The representatives urged the Administration to extend the service to all elderly people.
24. Mr Fred LI requested for a breakdown on the 4 600 CSSA singleton elderly who had been installed with emergency alarm bells in their homes to show the number of those who were aged above 70 and those suffering from 50% physical incapacity.

25. Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) (Ag) (DD(S)(Ag)) reported that during a cold snap in January 1999, 35 elderly people had died. Among them, 20 were aged above 75; 11 were aged between 65 to 70 and 4 were aged below 65. She said that out of the 35 elderly people, SWD was able to collect information on 20 and found that 16 actually had died of chronic diseases, such as heart attack, asthma, stroke and other diseases. Only four cases were related to the cold weather. SWD had also found that 20 of the elderly people who died were living with their families.

26. In response to Mr Fred LI's enquiry about the supply of hot food for the singleton elderly on Sundays, DD(S)(Ag) said that SWD arranged home help teams to work on Sundays as well. It had also requested the groups helping the elderly people to serve them with hot food during cold snap and keep them warm on those days. Therefore, many volunteers had been mobilised to pay visits to the single elderly during the cold snap.

27. In response to the views of SOCO, DD(S)(Ag) explained that SWD had widely publicised the emergency alarm bells by publishing leaflets for distribution in SSFU and SWD. However, despite the efforts of SWD to step up the publicity, some elderly people disliked the idea of installing the emergency alarm bells because of their unpleasant connotations. DD(S)(Ag) said that SWD would strengthen education and publicity to change their attitude towards the emergency alarm bells. She also informed members that the Administration would consider lowering the age requirement for singleton elderly to be eligible for the provision of emergency alarm bells. She undertook to report back to the Panel when more details were worked out. In this connection, Dr YEUNG Sum commented that since the targetted participants of the Social Networking for the Elderly Project were those aged 60 and above, there was a strong case for the Administration to consider lowering the age requirement from 70 to 60 for singleton elderly to be eligible for the financial assistance for the installation of emergency alarm bells in their homes. At members' request, DS(HW)2 agreed to report to the Panel its decision on the request as soon as possible.

28. Also addressing the views of SOCO, Chief Manager/Management (YFT) (CM/M(YFT)) of HD said that the provision of emergency alarm bells had been widely publicized by HD by means of leaflets and newsletters. Moreover, the Department issued letters to inform every singleton elderly tenant of such provisions. During cold snaps, estate liaison officers of 25 estates conducted visits to the single elderly tenants. A total of 7 200 family visits and phone calls had been recently made to these tenants' homes. HD staff would also refer needy singleton elderly to the Departments concerned, such as SWD and the Health Department, for follow-up support services.

29. Mr Fred LI enquired whether assistance was available to help the singleton elderly move around their furniture when HD carried out maintenance for water pipes and so on in their homes. In response, CM/M(YFT) said that such work assistance was provided by HD staff.

30. Dr YEUNG Sum enquired if the Administration would provide free vaccinations against influenza to the elderly people when they received treatment at the outpatient clinics of public hospitals. In reply, Assistant Director (Elderly Health Services) (AD(EHS)) explained that the targets of free vaccination programme were set by the Advisory Committee on Immunization after taking into consideration current experience in vaccine use, local epidemiology and overseas practice. However, he stressed that the most effective way to prevent influenza was by observing personal and environmental hygiene. He also pointed out that elderly people aged 65 and above only constituted less than 3% of the patients attending government general outpatient clinics who had shown symptoms of influenza as most of the elderly might have developed immunity already. In response to Dr YEUNG's further enquiry, AD(EHS) agreed that an elderly person had a higher risk when he suffered from complications arising from influenza. However, he pointed out that the free vaccination provided by DH only provided 60% to 70% degree of protection for the elderly and the Administration had to assess the priority of the targets to receive the provision of free vaccination.

31. Dr YEUNG Sum enquired what measures would be taken to promote the Social Networking for the Elderly Project so that it could cover more singleton elderly and recruit more volunteers. In response, DD(S)(Ag) explained that when the project was first introduced in the third quarter of 1996, there were about 89 000 singleton elderly in Hong Kong and the resources available for implementing the project were rather stringent then. Therefore, without waiting for the completion of the review of the project, the Administration had included the "Social Networking for the Elderly Project" as one of the on-going programmes of the Multi-service Centres for the Elderly since October 1998 and subvented NGOs had set up Support Teams for the vulnerable elderly. So far, 31 Support Teams had been set up and another five would be added by March 2001.

32. Regarding the findings of the study carried out by Professor Nelson CHOW, DD(S)(Ag) agreed that improvement on the computer programme of the client information system was necessary. Therefore, SWD had commissioned a consultancy firm to prepare a new computerized client information system which would be ready for use before March 1999.

33. DD(S)(Atg) agreed that it was necessary to improve publicity of the project. She noted that some singleton elderly could not recall the volunteers' visits as the elderly persons had mixed them up with other home visits conducted by volunteers under other programmes. In addition, SWD would ensure a standardized volunteer training package and in this connection new service guidelines for the volunteers joining this project had been prepared. Professor Nelson CHOW pointed out that the training provided for the volunteers should aim at enabling them to provide the needy singleton elderly with information on the support services available in the community.

34. In response to Dr YEUNG Sum's further enquiry on the way forward of the project, DD(S)(Ag) said that the Administration targetted to double the number of singleton elderly served by the project within one year's time. At members' request, she undertook to provide a progress report by September 1999 which would include explanations as to why the manpower of the Support Teams was adequate to serve the singleton elderly in need.

35. Mr LEE Kai-ming was concerned about the manpower constraint of the Support Teams. In reply, DS(HW) 2 said that since the 31 Support Teams had just been set up in last October, the Administration had yet to decide whether they had adequate manpower to handle existing caseload. Nevertheless, five additional Support Teams would be set up before end of March 2001. Professor Nelson CHOW advised that the Administration should also explore ways to consolidate the volunteer teams so that the volunteers would not drop out.

36. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan enquired about the details of Professor CHOW's recommendation made in his report on devising a new set of identification criteria to identify the elderly at risk. In response, DD(S)(Ag) said that based on the recommendation, additional criteria would be adopted for the assessment: the physical and mental health conditions of the singleton elderly, his social network, his ability for self-support, the dialects used by him, assistance rendered by his relatives and so on. She said that these new items of information would be added to the new computer system.

V. Services for demented elderly
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(06))

37. Due to shortage of time, members decided to defer this item to a later meeting for discussion.
(Post-meeting note : this item was discussed at the meeting held on 12 April 1999.)

VI. Hong Kong War Memorial Pension Ordinance
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1136/98-99(07))

38. Due to shortage of time, members decided not to discuss this item at the meeting. The Chairman suggested that members could relay their comments on the proposal amendments to the Ordinance, which involved technical issues only, to HWB direct.

39. The meeting ended at 10:45 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
9 August 1999