LC Paper No. CB(2)1352/98-99
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/WS
LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 14 December 1998 at 10:45 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Public Officers Attending:
- Item III - Integrated Neighbourhood Projects (INP) Service
- Mr Carlos LEUNG
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth and Training)
- Mr Parrish NG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
- Ms Bonnie YAU
- Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs
- Item IV - Review of CSSA
- Mrs Katherine FOK, JP
- Secretary for Health and Welfare
- Mr Andrew K P LEUNG, JP
- Director of Social Welfare
- Mr HO Wing-him
- Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare 2
- Mrs Louise WONG, JP
- Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)
- Mrs Rachel CARTLAND
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)
- Mr C H LO
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (Welfare 1)
- Mr CHENG Chok-man
- Chief Social Security Officer (2)
- Miss Lilian FUNG
- Senior Statistician/Social Welfare Department
- Mrs Clare SIU
- Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Employment Services) (Acting)
Deputations Attending :
- Item III - Integrated Neighbourhood Projects (INP) Service
- Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union
- Mr LUK Yiu-tung
Mr YU Siu-fu
- Item IV - Review of CSSA
- Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions
- Mr WONG Kwok-hing
Mr FAN Kwok-fai
- Hong Kong Social Security Society
- Prof Henry MOK
Mr CHOI Kin-shing
Mr MOK Kim-wing
- Hong Kong Council of Social Service
- Mr WONG Hung
Ms Lilian LAW
- Hong Kong Social Workers Association
- Mrs Justina LEUNG
Mr CHUA Hoi-wai
- The Group of Review of CSSA for Grass Roots of St. James Settlement
- Ms CHENG Shuk-ching
Ms WONG Sau-ping
Ms WU Woon-mei
- Concern Group on CSSA Review
- Ms WONG Wai-ling
Ms CHAN Fung-man
Ms CHUNG Yuen-yee
- Concern Group on CSSA Review for Families
- Ms FUNG Mei-yung
Ms LIU Ngan-fung
- Concern Group on CSSA Review for Single Parent Family
- Ms LEUNG Mei-sheung
Ms LEUNG Sau-chun
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 the minutes of meeting held on 12 October 1998 and matters arising
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 714/98-99)
The minutes of the meeting held on 12 October 1998 were confirmed.
II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LC Paper No. CB(2)859/98-999(01)
2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting to be held on 11 January 1999 at 10:45 am -
- Hong Kong Red Cross Report on the operation of the Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme; and
- Elderly Commission Ad Hoc Committee Report on Housing and Residential Services.
(Post-meeting note : item (a) was deferred to a future meeting at the request of the Administration)
III. Integrated Neighbourhood Projects (INP) Service
(LC Papers Nos. CB(2) 588/98-99(01) and (02), 817/98-99(07) and 859/98-99(02))
3. The Chairman welcomed representatives of the Concern Group on the Future of Community Development Services of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union (the Union) to the meeting.
4. Members noted that the main objective of INPs was to strengthen outreaching efforts to the target groups of new arrivals, the elderly and the low income families in 12 identified old urban areas with an aim to develop self-help and mutual help abilities.
5. The representatives of the Union said that the Union was against the INP proposal because the definition of target groups was impractical and the monitoring mechanism could not tie in with the evaluation mechanism. Under the new scheme, new arrivals were defined as those who had arrived in Hong Kong from China for less than a year, and low income families were defined as families with income lower than the recognised need under the CSSA scheme. The two criteria was too stringent given that new arrivals would usually be considered as those who had stayed in Hong Kong between three to six years. Even for the Housing Department, it would consider applications for public housing when new arrivals had resided in Hong Kong for not less than seven years. The Union also pointed out that social workers would have difficulty to screen and verify the eligibility of a recipient for INP service.
6. A representative of the Union expressed his disappointment that the Administration had not considered setting up a proper mechanism to monitor service delivery. He considered it insufficient for a review to be conducted by Professor Anthony YEH, Assistant Director of the Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management of the University of Hong Kong, only after the project had commenced operation for three years. He urged the Administration to consider expanding the service to other old urban areas and to carry out a comprehensive study to assess the service need in Hong Kong.
7. Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth and Training) (ADSW) said that as the Administration had briefed members on the INP service at the Panel meeting on 27 July 1998, he would not repeat the details. He said that the Director of Social Welfare and the Deputy Director of Social Welfare had also explained the projects to the Union on 18 August 1998. He advised that the Administration had shortlisted six non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which would commence provision of the service in January 1999.
8. Addressing the points raised by the Union, ADSW said that in the last review of the pilot NLCDPs in old urban areas, it was found that the definition of recipients was unclear which had resulted in NGOs adopting different practices during service provision. As a result evaluation of the project was difficult. He clarified that the criteria were meant to be a reference for the social workers to identify their target groups. If social workers had come across non-target groups with welfare needs during outreaching service, they would not turn them away but refer them to the suitable welfare services for assistance.
9. Dr YEUNG SUM pointed out that given that social workers were registered professionals and gate-keepers of social service, they were capable of assessing who they should serve. He questioned why the Social Welfare Department (SWD) was dictating terms to the social workers who had the professional judgement to decide whether a family should be considered as new arrival or of low income. He said that the Administration should have the trust and respect for social workers.
10. ADSW said that it was important for the service providers to understand the criteria and accept them to ensure that they were all serving the same target group. The SWD had held meetings with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), the service providers and the Home Affairs Bureau explaining the scheme, and the service providers had accepted the criteria. He reiterated that there must be defined targets, although flexibility might be allowed. He reassured members that those in genuine need would not be deprived of the service.
11. Mr LAW Chi-kwong clarified that the HKCSS had not accepted the methodology for setting the criteria but agreed that a broad brush approach should not be adopted during outreaching service. Since there would be a Funding and Service Agreement (FSA) which set out the scope and the performance requirements of the service, he hoped that it would be drafted in such a way to allow flexibility.
12. Mr Fred LI said that given some 30 applicants were bidding for the six INPs, he was not surprised that the service providers would comply with the criteria set down by the SWD. He considered that there would be bound to be difference in opinion between the front-line social workers and the organisations running the service, as they were looking at the matter from different perspectives. He enquired about the monitoring mechanism for INPs and expressed his preference for the setting up of an independent committee to oversee its implementation.
13. In reply, ADSW said that a task group comprising members from the SWD, the HKCSS and NGOs would be formed to work out the FSA and the relevant performance indicators. The function of the task group was comparable to the work of an independent committee. He further said that as one of the subvented services, INPs would be subject to the existing monitoring mechanism applicable to all welfare services subvented by the SWD. There was also a standard mechanism to evaluate pilot/experimental projects, i.e. apart from maintaining regular contacts with the operating agencies by SWD's district staff, the evaluations unit of the Department's Subvention Section would also work out the evaluation method in consultation with the agencies concerned. Additionally, Professor Anthony YEH would conduct another review of the physical condition of the target areas and the welfare service provision in the locality would also be examined when conducting the review after the three-year term.
14. Mr LEE Kai-ming questioned why the service areas were only limited to the six INPs. He pointed out that other old urban areas such as Kwun Tong, Wanchai and the Western district were also loaded with problems. He expressed concern about these areas being deprived of the service.
15. ADSW explained that the Review Group on Pilot Neighbourhood Level Community Development Projects (NLCDP) in Old Urban Areas(the Review Group) had surveyed all urban areas and had established eight eligibility criteria of target service areas. Based on these criteria, the Review Group had identified 12 targetted old urban areas for the implementation of INPs. The Executive Council (ExCo) had endorsed the proposal and the SWD would follow ExCo's decision to launch the scheme in the 12 districts. He reiterated that the INPs aimed to strengthen the outreaching efforts of the local service units run by the NGOs to exclusively serve the three target groups. Those which were not under the INPs would continue to enjoy the available welfare services in such areas.
16. The Chairman said that she was not convinced by the Administration's explanation. She said that the areas mentioned by Mr LEE were comparable to the pilot areas.
17. A representative of the Union criticised the Government for misleading the public. He said that the 12 districts were meant to be illustrative samples for districts eligible for INPs. In fact, Professor YEH had recommended other areas including Kwun Tong. The 12 districts only happened to be on the top of the priority list, but now they had become the only areas for INPs. He was dissatisfied that the review which was to be conducted in three years time would only assess the results of the 12 districts and not covering the whole of Hong Kong.
18. The Chairman thanked the deputation for attending the meeting.
IV. Review of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA)
(LC Papers Nos. CB(2) 770/98-99(01)-(03), 817/98-99(01)-(06) and 859/98-99(04))
19. The Chairman welcomed representatives of the Administration and the eight deputations to the meeting. She said that to facilitate discussion, deputations would speak first, to be followed by members. The Administration would then respond to the questions raised by members. If deputations wished to raise questions, they might pass the questions to members who would ask the questions on their behalf.
The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Union (FTU)
20. A representative of the FTU said that the Report on Review of the CSSA (the Report) did not live up to the title "Support for Self-reliance" as it could not help the unemployed. The Report mentioned that the rapid growth in CSSA caseload and expenditure might be explained by an ageing population, increased public awareness of the scheme mainly due to enhanced publicity and accessibility, changes in Hong Kong people's attitude towards social security benefits, and the increasing attractiveness of the payment levels vis-à-vis a relatively slow growth in wages over the past few years. It had lost sight of the fact that unemployment rate had escalated in recent years which had led to an increase in CSSA cases. The "three-lows" phenomenon among unemployed CSSA recipients, namely low rate of interviews as arranged through the Labour Department, low employment rate and low enrolment rate in retraining programmes, was not even mentioned in the Report. The Administration should look into the underlying reasons for the "three-low"
phenomenon, and take remedial action to improve the situation. He pointed out that in addition to basic needs, unemployed CSSA recipients required assistance in job placement. The Report had not only failed to address this question, but had depicted unemployed CSSA recipients as layabouts and proposed a punitive approach such as home visit to check on them. The FTU therefore did not support the approach and had proposed a Re-employment Support Package as set out in its submission.
Hong Kong Social Security Society (HKSSS)
21. A representative of the HKSSS said that while the slogan of the Report had a right policy direction in encouraging employable adults to be self-reliant, the design of the package simply would not achieve the objective. He said that views of the HKSSS were set out in its submission but he would like to add the following points -
- Food expenditure of a CSSA recipient in 1990 was $21.30 a day. After inflation adjustment, the figure in 1998 should be $37. However, the actual amount paid to a CSSA recipient was only $32 in 1998. In other words, food expenditure had regressed since 1990. Under the new proposal, the amount for each person in a three-member household and a four-member household would be further reduced to about $30 and the lowest amount would be $26.70. He questioned whether anyone was able to survive on such a meagre amount;
- The Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong had recently conducted a public opinion survey. It found that: (i) 54% of the respondents considered food allowance per day of less than $36 too little and only 4% considered it too much; (ii) 48.7% of the respondents considered an allowance of $2,500 for rent and all other living expenses too little and only 6.1% considered it too much; (iii) 44.2% of the respondents considered that a four-member household receiving $4,000 for rent was too much; and (iv) 87% of the respondents supported the provision of public housing to persons in long-term impoverishment. The HKSSS considered that since the $4,000 rental allowance only allowed four-member families to stay in cubicles or bed spaces, to arrange for them to live in public housing units was a better option because by simply paying about $1,500 a month, their living condition would be improved. At the same time, the CSSA allowance for a four-member household could be reduced to just over $7,000. On the Administration's concern about queue-jumping by the CSSA recipients if public housing was offered, the HKSSS had explained in its submission that this would not happen;
- The Report failed to provide solutions to help the unemployed to find jobs. He cited an article in the Ming Pao Daily News on the HKSSS's "three-win" proposal for the unemployed, the Government and the society. The HKSSS proposed that the Government be involved in the recycling of waste metal, paper and glass bottles. It was estimated that some 8,000 jobs could be created as a result. As these jobs did not require any specific skills, they could be taken up by CSSA recipients readily. The HKSSS would prepare a detailed proposal for the Administration's consideration; and
- The Administration should set up an inter-departmental group involving the Housing Department, the Education and Manpower Bureau and the SWD to address the long-standing question of poverty and unemployment. The HKSSS also urged the LegCo to set up an independent working group to collect public views on the proposed package of measures and prepare a report on the views gathered, instead of relying on the one to be compiled by the Health and Welfare Bureau.
Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS)
22. A representative of the HKCSS criticised that the Report did not provide sufficient assistance for the unemployed to rejoin to the workforce and doubted the effectiveness of the proposed measures. He said that in slashing the basic rate, the Government had deviated from the existing practice. He raised the following concerns in addition to the comments made in the submission -
- What basis was used in devising the proposed reduction of standard rates for three-member households and four-member households for 10% and 20% respectively? Had the Government violated the standards laid down in 1996 which was based on the household expenditure survey approach and the basic needs approach?
- The allowance for able-bodied recipient in 1998 should be $1,758 after inflation adjustment, instead of the proposed range of $1,290 to $1,450. The safety net was no longer safe for the vulnerable groups under the new proposal;
- According to the three-month qualitative study conducted by SWD, with the assistance of Labour Department (LD) and the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) on some unemployed able-bodies and single parents, about 70% of the 260 participants had made some efforts to find a job before turning to CSSA. Even after they started to receive CSSA, 73% of them continued to make efforts to find jobs. This showed that CSSA did not breed layabouts. It was a matter of serious concern to find that most of those who found work had very low wages, the lowest being only $900 per month. He questioned whether the amount was sufficient for a person to survive in Hong Kong. As for a single parent family, the representative questioned whether the median earnings of $3,250 (calculated in the qualitative study based on jobs secured by single parents) sufficient to meet the basic needs of a family given that a single parent family would at least receive $6,800 under the current CSSA scheme;
- Employable CSSA recipients would need additional assistance and in turn resources from the Government in order to rejoin the workforce, but the Report had recommended the contrary. Slashing special grants and supplements appeared to have deviated from the principle of helping the poor. For instance, reducing special grant for telephone would hamper the unemployed from finding jobs; and
- One of the reasons for the rapid growth in CSSA caseload and expenditure was the nature of the scheme. As a kind of income protection scheme, CSSA also included those who had retired and the unemployed. The Administration should consider having a separate comprehensive retirement and unemployment protection scheme to resolve the problem of ever-increasing CSSA expenditures.
Hong Kong Social Workers Association (HKSWA)
23. A representative of the HKSWA said that in addition to the views made in its initial submission, the HKSWA would like to seek further clarification from the Administration on some of the points made in the Report. The questions raised by the HKSWA were set out in the supplementary submission which was tabled at the meeting (Appendix I).
The Group of Review of CSSA for Grass Roots of St. James Settlement (SJS)
24. Representatives of SJS presented their views as set out in Appendix II.
Concern Group on CSSA Review (CG)
25. A representative of the CG informed members that the CG consisted of representatives from various NGOs as well as individuals who were concerned about the review of the CSSA. She expressed concern about the unavailability of copies of the Report in the district offices and the SWD offices. In addition to the views covered in the submission, the representatives made the following points-
- The Report emphasised the provision of retraining and placement services to help the employable CSSA recipients to rejoin workforce, but it had neglected the fact that there was severe shortage of job places. As revealed in the survey, only 55 recipients out of the 260 respondents were able to find work, and of whom 76% found employment on their own rather than through the help of the LD. Based on these figures, the CG was not convinced that the employable CSSA recipients would be able to find employment through the proposed measures. The CG pointed out that since the majority of the recipients were not well educated, lacked skills and were in their forties and fifties, they were not competitive in the job market and were often being discriminated against. Under the circumstances, their chances of securing jobs were slim unless the Government took the lead to create jobs. It would be irresponsible for the Government to simply force these people out into the job market;
- Some of the recommendations in the Report were actually making use of existing resources and following the policies initiated by the NGOs. The Administration should inject additional resources to implement those recommendations;
- In 1996 the Government adopted the basic needs approach in arriving at the standard rate. It would be inhumane to reduce the rate now because the basic standard of living would be affected. The CG enquired about the justifications for revising the basic rate for a family with three members or more. It criticised the Administration for focusing on slashing CSSA payments instead of conducting a comprehensive review of the CSSA scheme with a view to improving its service;
- The Administration should consider providing a comprehensive package of support to address the unemployment problem including measures like the provision of more child care centres, vocational training, creating jobs, etc.; and
- The Administration should conduct public consultation for a period of not less than three months in accordance with international standard. The result should be analysed by an independent working group to ensure impartiality.
Concern Group on CSSA Review for Families (CGF)
26. Representatives of the CGF raised the following concerns and suggestions for consideration by members and the Administration -
- It was unfair for the Administration to compare the monthly allowance of CSSA households with the average monthly expenditure of the non-CSSA households in the lowest 25% expenditure group. The CGF questioned why the Administration had not drawn comparison with the living standard of the government officials and members of the LegCo instead;
- Whether the children of CSSA households were entitled to the right conferred in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, given that the families might not be able to afford their children's participation in recreational activities organised by schools;
- The Administration should set up a council on alimony through which single parents could claim reasonable alimony without having to turn to CSSA. At the same time, the setting up of a council would create new jobs for some of those who were currently unemployed;
- The Administration had portrayed CSSA recipients as lazy, dependent on government welfare, had no initiative to work and abused the scheme. As a result, CSSA recipients and their children were being looked down upon. The CGF urged the Administration to clarify the public's misunderstanding of CSSA recipients;
- The Administration to consider assisting single parents in setting up co-operatives such as child care service by providing venue, training and financial assistance. In doing so, new jobs would be created and at the same time, single parents could place their children under care and could start looking for jobs;
- The Administration to consider contracting out some of the services to the unemployed CSSA recipients so that they would not be exploited by the contractors;
- Many of the single parent CSSA recipients were doing voluntary work, for instance, taking care of elderly singletons and escorting disabled persons to clinics. However, the requirement to undertake unpaid community work as proposed in the Report was a punitive measure which was tantamount to a community service order. The CGF was against the proposal and asked whether a CSSA recipient who was already engaged in voluntary service would be required to discontinue her service in future in order to take up community work assigned by the SWD;
- Some CSSA recipients had undesirable habits such as taking drugs. Voluntary service such as cleaning up beaches would not help them to rehabilitate. Rather the Administration should consider to arrange them to work in sheltered workshop; and
- The slashing of special grants and supplements were unreasonable.
Concern Group on CSSA Review for Single Parent Family (CGSPF)
27. A representative of the CGSPF made the following points -
- Special supplements such as spectacle expenses should not be cut as they were not luxury items. The measure would affect children's school work and was detrimental to their development;
- Juvenile problems would get worse if single parents had to work when their children reached the age of 12;
- Children would be under-nourished if the basic rates for households with three members or more were to be reduced;
- The Government should allow single parents receiving CSSA to take up part-time jobs as this would help them to improve their standard of living and raise their self-esteem. She proposed that the disregarded earnings for single parents should be increased from $450 to $1,500 so that a single parent earning $3,158 would pocket at least about $2,300 instead of $1,800 a month after splitting the earnings with the Government; and
- Whether retraining programme would be beneficial to single parents who were slow learners who might not be able to acquire the necessary skills within a short period of time.
Questions by members
28. Mr LAW Chi-kwong said that in addition to the questions he raised at the meeting on 9 December 1998, he would like to know whether a CSSA recipient who died at the age of 59 would be eligible for receiving the special grant for burial expenses.
29. Director of Social Welfare (DSW) explained that over the past years a wide range of special grants had been introduced. The availability of special grants to meet individual needs of members of the household also tended to inflate the total benefits received. The burgeoning expenditure on special grants was quite alarming as it now constituted 28% of total CSSA expenditure. Under the new proposal, households of three and four able-bodied adults/children would get an average of $8,010 and $9,450 respectively which were close or even slightly higher than non-CSSA households with low income. Given that the non-CSSA households also had to pay for expenses such as spectacles and telephone charges, the Administration considered it necessary to cut down the types of special grants for able-bodied adults/children to those which were absolutely essential. As regards burial grants, DSW would look into individual cases where exercising his discretion was required.
30. Mr LAW Chi-kwong responded that a person had no control of his fate. He asked how DSW would exercise his discretion in the event that a person died at 59 instead of 60. DSW replied that it would depend on the overall income and expenditure of the household. If it was proved that the family could not afford the funeral charges, discretion would be exercised.
31. Miss Cyd HO enquired about the basis for arriving at the proposed standard rates for households of three members or more. Referring to an earlier question raised by a representative of a deputation, she asked whether the Administration had consulted a dietician on whether the amount of $26.70 for food each day was sufficient for the healthy development of a child. She also wished to know how many copies of the Report had been printed in the first edition and expressed concern about the methodology of consultation especially in regard to analysis of the views collected. She cautioned the Administration not to manipulate data in favour of its policy. She also expressed concern about the assistance provided to single parents. For instance, the opening hours of child care centres did not meet the needs of working single parents whose working hours, including commuting time, would mostly go beyond 6:00 pm. She considered it a waste of resources if those who were in need of the service could not use it. On special grants and supplements, she pointed out that some single parents who were abused by their spouses might require removal and furniture allowances. The proposal to cut these grants had cut the rope of the safety net and forcing those who were poverty stricken to fend for themselves.
32. Secretary for Health and Welfare (SHW) clarified that the Administration had not departed from the approach adopted in 1996 when the new standard rate for CSSA was derived. As to how much allowance would be sufficient to meet the basic needs of an individual, she pointed out that it had always been a controversial issue. She said that once an allowance was granted to a family, it was for the family to decide how much they should spend on food and other items. For able-bodied children, they would continue to be given the special grants related to schooling to ensure that they were not denied access to education through lack of means. The school related expenses were even calculated based on the 90 percentile expenditure level to ensure that it would meet the needs of most students. As regards consultation, it would last for six weeks and would include briefings to organisations, and consultation with the provisional district boards, and inviting the public to submit views through telephone, letters and faxes, etc. An outside agency would be commissioned to conduct a public opinion survey and conduct an independent analysis of the responses gathered. On the problems faced by single parents, SHW pointed out that this was more than a CSSA question. Apart from giving financial assistance, the SWD, Housing Department and other departments would render necessary assistance. Since some single parents had expressed the wish to join the workforce, to improve their vocational skill and working ability while they were still young, the Government would step up child care services. The Administration would also consider the proposal of setting up co-operatives.
33. DSW informed the meeting that the Administration had printed 12,000 copies of the Report and 60,000 copies of the executive summary in the first edition. The Administration would print more copies if necessary. The copies were available to the public at district offices of HAD and SWD offices. He said that the Administration had consulted dieticians in arriving at the standard rates in 1996. To this end, the standard rates for an able-bodied adult and for households of two were kept intact under the proposal, although the basic rates for households with three members and above were reduced because they would benefit from economy of scale. He recalled that in setting the standard rates in 1996, it was agreed that for these able-bodied adults who were able and expected to work, the level of CSSA payments for these recipients should be sufficiently lower than the monthly wages earned by the lowest paid workers so as to avoid a disincentive to work. On child care services for single parents, DSW said that some centres had already extended their operating hours beyond 6:00 pm. At the same time, the SWD would co-operate with schools and youth centres to strengthen services to teenagers.
34. In response to Miss Cyd HO's request to ask follow-up questions, the Chairman said that the Administration had answered all her questions even though she might not be satisfied with the answers. She said that members had requested the Administration to extend the opening hours of child care centres on numerous occasions, but it was unlikely that the Administration could now give an immediate solution to the question.
35. Dr YEUNG Sum said that the Administration should not compare CSSA payments with the general wage level. If this was to be applied, the Administration should have increased the standard rates in the past few years when the economy was booming. He said that the argument put forward by the Administration would win a lot of support under the existing economic climate. However, it had unfairly projected a negative image of the CSSA recipients. Since 1996, the Administration had adopted the basic needs approach which had taken into account views of dieticians and professionals and there was also inflation adjustment. He considered the approach objective and urged the Administration to continue with the existing system. Although the Administration did not admit to have departed from the basic needs approach, the fact remained as the standard rate for three-member and four-member households would be slashed by 10% and 20% respectively. He urged the Administration to revert to the basic needs framework while consideration might be given to adopt an overseas practice whereby CSSA recipients showing no intention to seek work should be penalised. He further said that it was unreasonable to cut down special grants such as spectacle expenses when the Government was injecting millions of dollars in support of the stock and the property markets. He pointed out that according to criminology studies, children aged 12 to 15 were most vulnerable to juvenile crime. Since single parents faced more difficulties in looking after their children, he considered that the policy of requiring single parents to seek work when their children reached the age of 15 should remain intact. He pointed out that the proposal of reducing the age limit to 12 would not help the Administration to save much money. He supported the deputations views that the disregarded earnings for single parents should be increased and that co-operatives be encouraged.
36. DSW replied that 70% of the single parent families would not be affected by the proposal because the majority of the children were under 12 years old. For the remaining 30%, the Administration would provide better support to facilitate them to resume work. As regards increasing the amount of disregarded earnings for single parents, the Administration would consider any suggestions put forward by the public during consultation. He reiterated that the Administration had not deviated from the approach adopted in 1996 in setting the standard rates given that the standard rate for one-member and two-member households would remain intact while the principle of economy of scale would apply to three-member households and above. He further explained that for special grants such as spectacles, the Administration was of the view that like a non-CSSA household, a CSSA household should decide on how to prudently spend the amount of CSSA received. As regards co-operative projects, he said that individual proposals would be considered under the Lotteries Fund.
37. Dr YEUNG Sum did not agree with the Administration that the proposals set out in the Report had not deviated from the basic needs approach. He cautioned the Administration not to take advantage of this review to target at more CSSA recipients, as he had noted from an article which revealed that the Government could save up to $600 million in this exercise. Given the present state of the economy, he considered it a disturbing matter for such savings be made at the expense of the impoverished. He urged the Administration -
- not to reduce the CSSA payments to households of three members and less;
- not to reduce payments across the board for households of four members or more as some households had genuine needs;
- not to cut down special grants and supplements such as spectacle expenses which were basic needs;
- not to reduce the children's age limit for a single parent to seek work at the risk of high social costs since little savings could be achieved;
- to increase the amount of disregarded earnings for single parents; and
- to provide assistance to single parents in the setting up of co-operatives.
38. On community work, Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung considered the theory sound as it encouraged the CSSA recipients to make contribution to the society. However, he was concerned about the practical difficulties in organising community work especially when CSSA recipients were reluctant to participate in a compulsory programme. He enquired about the reasons for the "three-lows" phenomenon mentioned by the FTU, namely low interview rate, low employment rate and low enrolment rate at retraining programme for CSSA recipients. He also ask the Administration to comment on the Re-employment Support Package proposed by the FTU.
39. SHW replied that she had heard similar comments about the community work programme. She assured members that community work would be carefully designed to ensure that the administrative costs were kept to the minimum, that it would not confuse with or affect other voluntary work, and that CSSA recipients would not be stigmatised.
40. Addressing the questions of "three-lows" raised by the FTU and members, Assistant Commissioner for Labour (Employment Services) (Acting) (ACL) said that she would provide statistics to let members have an objective overview on the matter. She said that in the first 10 months of 1998, non-CSSA and CSSA applicants who had registered with the Local Employment Service (LES) of the LD received on average 1.7 and 0.2 referrals respectively. The low level of referrals of CSSA recipients would obviously affect the number of CSSA recipients successfully getting jobs through the LES as compared to non-CSSA recipients. She explained that referral service was a semi self-help service. It was up to the applicants to search jobs that were advertised in the LES office and asking for referrals. If the LES staff considered that the applicant was suitable for the selected job, he would contact the employer by phone and seek a job interview. In the course, the applicant and the employer would have the opportunity to find out more about each other. If both parties agreed, an interview would be arranged. Whether the applicant would be successful would depend on his qualifications and performance at the interview. She advised that about 90% of registered applicants had no difficulty in choosing jobs for themselves and were using this semi self-help service. For those job-seekers who had difficulty in doing their own job search, the LES offered a Job Matching Programme (JMP). Once an applicant had joined the JMP, LES staff would hold an in-depth interview with him to understand his needs and skills. Based on the information gathered, he would then perform job matching and, where necessary, refer the applicant to retraining to help him upgrade his skills or acquire new skills so as to improve his employability. Whilst about 10% of the registered applicants of the LES had joined the JMP, only 1% of all CSSA recipients registered with the LES had made use of this service. She reiterated that the employment services offered by the LD were voluntary and choosing jobs, seeking referrals and joining the JMP would depend very much on the applicant's own initiative. She further explained that in the Support for Self-reliance scheme proposed by SWD, the SWD would have dedicated staff to monitor each CSSA case. Each CSSA recipient would be interviewed regularly and provided with information, advice and assistance in his job search. The LD, together with other relevant government departments, would provide the necessary assistance to and co-operation with the SWD.
41. Despite ACL's explanation, the Chairman pointed out that in 1997 some 25,900 CSSA recipients had registered with the LD and only 2,800 applicants were referred for interviews. She said that the unemployed able-bodied CSSA recipients wanted to re-enter the job market but were hindered by the lack of vacancies and support measures. She found it unreasonable that when they were faced with these difficulties, the Administration had not offered solutions but on the contrary, proposed to reduce CSSA payments.
|42. ACL reiterated that for interviews to be arranged, a registered applicant had to first take the initiative to select a suitable job from vacancies advertised in the LES office. When the LES staff called up the employer, an interview might not be arranged if the employer considered the applicant not suitable for the job or, on finding out more about the job in the course of the teleconversation between the LES staff and the employer, the applicant decided not to proceed further. ACL further explained that once an applicant had registered with the LD, the validity period was six months. During this period, the applicants could make use of the services available in the LES offices. She reassured members that when an applicant had identified a suitable job, the LD would try to arrange an interview with the employer as far as practicable. All she could say was the number of referrals requested by unemployed CSSA recipients was much lower than that of the non-CSSA recipients. In response to the Chairman, ACL undertook to provide statistics relating to the "three-lows" for follow-up action by the Panel on Manpower.
43. Mr LEE Kai-ming considered that the proposal to disregard completely only the first month's income for newly employed CSSA recipients was not enough, because the job might not be secure in the first place. He suggested to extend the disregarded period, say for six months, in line with overseas practices. He said that the claim that CSSA recipients were lazy was unfounded, as evidenced by the fact that more than 70% of the CSSA recipients had registered with the LD. On the other hand, the LD had not been too helpful as the qualitative study revealed that 76% of those who had secured jobs found employment on their own and not with the help of LD.
44.In response to the Chairman, DSW discounted accusation that the Administration was leading the public to perceive CSSA recipients as lazy. He said that the Administration disagreed with the labelling of CSSA recipients as layabouts because CSSA recipients involved different groups of people who had all gone through assessment before they were given assistance. He said that the qualitative study involving some 260 able-bodied CSSA recipients had proved that the support for self-reliance programme would work. Before the qualitative study was conducted, there was the "three-low" phenomenon which was related to the comparatively high CSSA payment levels. In carrying out the study, services provided to the CSSA participants were strengthened through a co-ordinated package of counselling, employment and retraining services provided by the SWD, the LD and the ERB. Individual cases were given close attention resulting in the participants becoming more proactive in finding jobs and a higher success rate. The reason to set the disregarded earnings period at one month was because the probation period for most low-paid jobs was one month. If the level and period of disregarded earnings were to be extended, it would not only broaden the CSSA net, but would also push the total resources of CSSA families with an employed member further above market wages. It might also encourage recipients to look for a relatively comfortable low paid job, benefit from the high level of disregarded earnings, and stay on CSSA. On the creation of jobs, DSW said that as many factors were involved, it would require co-operation from other government departments.
45. Mr Fred LI criticised the Government for being too generous to overseas countries such as Thailand and Brazil to which millions of dollars of loans were provided while being mean to the vulnerable groups in Hong Kong. He asked the Administration to provide figures on the amount of savings that could be achieved after reducing the basic rate payments to households of three members or more, and removing special grants and supplements to able-bodied adults and children. He said that the Administration must have the figure as a Senior Statistician was present at the meeting. If the Administration could not provide the figure now, it should provide it after the meeting. On special grants and supplements, Mr LI questioned why items such as spectacles and funeral expenses were to be slashed given that they were granted on a reimbursement basis and there was no possibility of abuse. He asked for the reasons for removing the special grants and supplements if it was not for cutting government spending.
46. SHW responded that the Administration had done some calculation but the figures were based on a number of assumptions. She stressed that the objective of the review was not to generate saving as the government was prepared to spend $13 billion on CSSA this year and even more in the following year. The purpose of the Support for Self-reliance scheme was to help the unemployed to rejoin the workforce. She said that the calculation was difficult because some crucial information was not available, for example, the number of CSSA recipients who would leave or join the scheme; the composition of new CSSA households joining the scheme; the amount of CSSA payments each household and individual were getting; etc. This explained why the Administration had to seek supplementary provision from the LegCo every year. As far as CSSA cases were concerned, the Administration was only able to come up with a more accurate figure in the third quarter of a year rather than at the beginning of a year.
47. Mr Fred LI reiterated that he was seeking very simple information which should be readily available. SHW said that at present there were some 60,000 CSSA cases involving recipients who were able to work, including unemployed, low income families and single parent families. The number of these cases would continue to go up as the unemployment rate was on the increase. The expenditure on CSSA would depend very much on the growth rate of CSSA cases. Assuming a 30% increase in CSSA cases in the following year, the government would be able to avoid CSSA expenditure of about $700 million after implementation of the proposed package.
48. The Chairman said that SHW should provide figures of savings from each category of CSSA recipients affected, assuming the number of CSSA remained unchanged.
49. SHW explained that the figure she just quoted had taken into account the reduction of standard rate payments to three-member and four-member households by 10% and 20% respectively, as well as the tightening of special grants and supplements payable to able-bodied adults and children. The calculation was further complicated by the fact that some households might have elderly persons, chronically ill, and persons with a disability. Given the different combination of households and the large number of assumptions that had to be made, the above figure could serve as a reference only.
50. Mr Fred LI said that he was not asking about future figures. He only wanted to know if the proposed scheme was to apply to the present situation, how much could be saved. These figures should be readily available and could be projected easily. The Chairman urged the Administration not to beat around the bush and provide direct answers to members. In response, SHW said that the proposed scheme would avoid CSSA expenditure of about $550 million if the number of CSSA recipients was to remain at the current level.
51. Miss Cyd HO was of the view that the Administration should provide other assistance to help the employable CSSA recipients to be self-reliant. She suggested the following positive measures for the Administration's consideration: to provide public housing to the recipients and thereby reducing payment for rental allowances; to extend the operating hours of child care centres; to provide adult education; and to set up a council on alimony.
52. SHW replied that the Administration would consider all the suggestions. She said that all CSSA recipients would be given help if they required public housing but there was a waiting period.
|53. Dr YEUNG Sum requested the Administration to provide information on the amount of CSSA payment a four-member household could get if they were living in public housing vis-à-vis that for a four-member household living in a private tenement. The information was important because the public was of the view that every four-member CSSA household was getting about $11,000. He said that if the amount was lower than $11,000, then the example quoted by the Administration that a four-member CSSA household was getting more than $11,000 would be erroneous.||Adm
54. In response to Miss CHOY So-yuk and Dr YEUNG Sum, SHW undertook to provide a written reply to the views expressed by deputations.
55. A representative of the HKSSS said that that he was disappointed that in the past six months, some NGOs suggested to the SWD to provide assistance to encourage CSSA recipients to start up their own business but there was no positive response. Referring to an earlier comment made by SHW, he said that in many overseas countries such as Sweden, estimation on recipients leaving and joining social security scheme was done on an annual basis. He could provide the necessary assistance if the Administration had difficulties in calculating the figure.
56. A representative of the HKCSS commented the figure about CSSA and non-CSSA applicants receiving respectively 0.2 and 1.7 referrals for interviews quoted earlier by ACL might mislead the public to think that CSSA recipients were reluctant to seek jobs. He said that comparison between CSSA and non-CSSA recipients on age, skill, education, qualification, sex, etc. should also be made in order to give a more accurate picture.
|In response to the request made by the representative of the HKSSS, the Chairman said that it would be inappropriate for LegCo to conduct an independent study on the result of public consultation. Dr YEUNG Sum concurred and said that there were practical difficulties. The Chairman assured the deputations that the LegCo would monitor the situation closely. She said that she thought the Administration was not going to consult the public on the proposals, so this meeting was arranged to enable NGOs to express their views. The representative of HKSSS said that he was disappointed at the Panel's decision. In response to the Chairman, the Administration undertook to brief the Panel on the progress of consultation in due course. ||Adm |
57. The Chairman thanked the deputations and the Administration for attending the meeting.
58. The meeting ended at 1:25 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat
24 February 1999