Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)198/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration) Ref : CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Meeting
Held on Monday, 27 July 1998 at 10:45 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

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

Members Absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members Attending :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Mr Andrew K P LEUNG
Director of Social Welfare

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

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary (Home Affairs)

Ms Miranda YEAP
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Item IV

Mr HO Wing-him
Deputy Secretary for Health & Welfare (2)

Mr Andrew K P LEUNG
Director of Social Welfare

Mrs Louise S Y WONG
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)

Mr CHENG Chok-man
Chief Social Security Officer

Mr LO Chi-hong
Principal Assistant Secretary (Welfare)

Item V

Miss Victoria TANG
Deputy Secretary for Health & Welfare (3) (Atg.)

Mrs Patricia CHU
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services)

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

Mr CHONG Kwok-kit
Assistant Director (Services), Education Department

Attendance by Invitation :

Item III

Association for Fighting for Community Development Services in Old Areas
Miss CHU Shuk-fan
Mr HUI Yat-hau
Mr TANG Ping-shun
Ms WONG Lin-hei
Mr LOK Yiu-tung

Item IV

Hong Kong Council of Social Service
Ms Lilian LAW

Hong Kong Social Workers Association
Mrs Justina LEUNG
Mr CHAN Wing-kin

Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union
Ms Pauline CHAN

Clerk in Attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4

Staff in Attendance :

Ms Joanne MAK
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting held on 14 July 1998
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 104/98-99)

The minutes of the last meeting held on 14 July 1998 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and discussion items

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting to be held on 14 September 1998 at 10:45 am -

  1. Welfare services for the elderly; and

  2. Employment situation of fresh social work graduates.

3. Members agreed that item (a) should cover all aspects of welfare services for the elderly in the list of outstanding issues, including residential problems of the elderly and the care support available to them. Mr Fred LI suggested and members agreed that progress of the implementation of the Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme should be included.

4. Members agreed to discuss the proposal for a Social Welfare Services Development Fund under item (b) as the proposal could help to create employment opportunities for social work graduates.

5. Mr LAW Chi-kwong suggested and the Chairman agreed to follow-up the item on "Review of the rapid expansion of the Social Welfare Department and its role in provision of direct social services" at a future meeting. This item was last discussed by the Panel in May 1997.

III. Neighbourhood Level Community Development Projects (NLCDP)
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 91/98-99 (01))

(LC Paper No. CB(2) 126/98-99 - submission tabled at the meeting)

6. Representatives of the Association for Fighting for Community Development Services in Old Areas (the Association) requested for the provision of the NLCDP services in Mong Kok South where there would be redevelopment. In addition, they queried why the proposed modified Integrated Neighbourhood Projects (INPs) would be only provided in Yau Ma Tei/Tai Kok Tsui, Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City and not in other old urban areas such as Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Hunghom, Shau Kei Wan, Wan Chai and Mong Kok South. The representatives requested LegCo to follow up on the selection of the target areas and the case of Mong Kok South.

7. The representatives criticized the scope of service of INPs as being too narrow as it only included provision of information to clients and making referrals. They preferred NLCDP teams which helped to organize the residents to form community groups to negotiate with the relevant departments. The representatives considered that cessation of the NLCDP services was aimed at suppressing the voices of the lower class. They appealed for members' support for retention of NLCDP services.

8. The representatives also considered that the modified INPs should not only be provided to new arrivals, the elderly and low income families in the target areas. They requested that the services should be extended to cover all the residents within a target area.

9. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS(HA)) briefed the meeting on the background leading to the establishment of the independent Review Group on Pilot NLCDPs in Old Urban Areas (the Review Group) in January 1997. The initial report of the Review Group, submitted to the Secretary for Home Affairs (SHA) in January 1998, concluded, inter alia, that -

  1. NLCDP services were not suitable for implementation in old urban areas;

  2. the two pilot NLCDPs in Nam Cheong and Mong Kok South should not continue to operate upon their completion; and

  3. a bidding system for INPs should be introduced to the old urban areas selected according to a set of stipulated criteria.

10. Having regard to the Review Group's observations and the views of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Administration suggested certain modifications to the INP proposal. PAS(HA) said that the modified INPs aimed to strengthen the outreaching efforts of the local service units run by NGOs to exclusively serve the target groups of new arrivals, the elderly and low income families. The modified INPs would be reviewed after their three-year term to determine whether they should be continued. The Review Group had endorsed the modified INPs, which had been incorporated into the final recommendations of the Review Group. The final report of the Review Group was submitted to SHA in early July 1998. Based on the recommendations in the report, the Administration made an ExCo submission on the Review of Pilot NLCDPs in Old Urban Areas on 21 July 1998.

11. In response to the views of the deputation, PAS(HA) clarified that the Administration had no intention to discontinue the NLCDP services being provided to areas qualified under the existing policy. He reiterated the decision made by ExCo in December 1995 that there was no need to extend NLCDP services to new towns, rural areas and public housing estates not affected by redevelopment given the vastly improved and expanded welfare programme over the years and the full implementation of the District Administration Scheme.

12. PAS(HA) said that the modified INPs would be provided to 12 target old areas identified in accordance with the eligibility criteria as set out in paragraph 11 of the relevant LegCo Brief and in Annex S of the Review Group's Report and subject to site investigation to determine the actual service boundary of the service areas. He clarified that the selection of target areas was based on actual need and not on a district basis. He also pointed out that the Administration did not consider that all the old urban areas had a need for the modified INPs.

13. The Director of Social Welfare (DSW) said that many welfare services were now available in both old and new districts and quoted that expenditure on social welfare had increased to $25 billion, one-third of which was spent on direct services. DSW clarified that the scope of service provided by the modified INPs was more than making referrals. They sought to actively identify the needs of the needy clients, particularly elderly singletons, new arrivals and low income families, through home visits and make sure that they would get the services they required. DSW disagreed that the Administration intended to suppress the voices of the lower class. He said that there were many channels such as those provided by the mass media and political parties for people to express their views. Moreover, people could make representations to LegCo which was also a way for them to express their views.

14. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan said that the big difference between the INPs and NLCDPs was that the former did not promote community development nor formation of community groups. He considered that the real motive of the Administration in abolishing NLCDPs was to prevent the residents from being unified to exert pressure on the government. In response, PAS(HA) referred to SHA's reply to a Member's question at the Council meeting held on 15 July 1998, which stated that the policy of not extending NLCDPs was not due to political consideration. PAS(HA) said that one of the objectives of the modified INPs was essentially to develop the self-help and mutual help abilities of the vulnerable groups through community development programmes. As regards the selection of target areas, PAS(HA) said that the modified INPs would not be introduced to some old urban areas because they had failed to meet the eligibility criteria.

15. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan considered that the modified INPs could not really achieve community development nor enhance the mutual help abilities of the residents if they only catered for the three defined groups. In response, PAS(HA) said that community development was one of the Administration's policy objectives. However, it was achieved not only by means of the INPs. In fact, over the years there had been large expansion of welfare facilities and community development programmes in various districts. The needs of residents had been reflected to the Administration by the liaison networks provided by the relevant District Office. Moreover, the outreaching service provided by NLCDPs was also found in other welfare services run by NGOs.

16. Mr Fred LI considered that the modified INPs was another move of the government to hamper community development by restricting the service scope, service targets and shortening the length of the projects to three years. In response to Mr LI's enquiries about why districts like Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong were not selected for the modified INPs and the mechanism for evaluation of the projects, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth & Training) said that the targeted areas were identified by the Review Group based on a set of criteria outlined at Annex S of the Review Group's Report. He said that evaluation of the effectiveness of projects would be based on objective criteria which had yet to be worked out by the Administration in conjunction with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

17. Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung considered that the objectives of the NLCDP services were clear and he queried why the Administration had concluded that the objectives of the services "were unfocused and ill-defined". In response, DSW said that the NLCDP services lacked clearly defined target groups and there was also no service agreement or performance indicators put in place. He considered that the services which were financed by public fund should be effectively monitored.

18. Mr LAW Chi-kwong commented that the "development of mutual help abilities of the vulnerable group" was not equal to "community development" as the latter involved organisation of the residents to fight for their own rights. Mr LAW recalled that the Committee on NLCDPs was responsible for determining the priority of the target areas for the NLCDP services. He suggested that a similar steering group comprising representatives of NGOs should be set up to decide on the priority of the target areas for the modified INPs and to work out details of the evaluation system.

19. Mr LEE Kai-ming queried why the NLCDP services in old urban areas should be abolished despite the fact that the services were well received by the residents. Moreover, as the modified INPs were mainly to provide referral service, he was worried that there was no mechanism in place to gauge the clients' feedback on the welfare services they had used. In response, DSW said that the modified INPs sought to enhance the knowledge of the deprived groups in old urban areas about ways to access the welfare services available and put in place a set of service agreement. The Administration was able to obtain feedback from clients on the services they had used by conducting seminars with them to seek their comments direct. DSW considered that Hong Kong was a free society which allowed the existence of different community groups to express their own views.

20. Miss Cyd HO asked whether the Administration would provide any assistance to social workers to help residents affected by redevelopment to negotiate with the Land Development Corporation or private land developers. She considered that residents would be at a great disadvantage if they were not assisted by social workers in the course of negotiation with the authorities concerned. In response, PAS(HA) said that as many departments would be involved in a redevelopment project, they would each provide assistance to the residents. Nevertheless, he considered that he was not in the position to comment as policy of urban renewal was outside the ambit of the Home Affairs Bureau.

21. A representative of the Association reiterated that in the course of redevelopment, it was essential that the Administration should provide the appropriate support to help the residents to articulate their needs and problems or else they might be deterred from doing so due to their lack of confidence and knowledge. On behalf of the Association, the representative requested the Panel to follow up on (i) the delineation of the target areas; and (ii) the future development of neighbourhood level community development service, which was important to the lower class. The Chairman agreed and suggested that the Panel should further discuss this item some time in the future. Clerk

22. At Mr Fred LI's suggestion, the Chairman agreed that the Administration should respond in writing regarding members' suggestion of setting up a steering group and the need to have NGO representatives in it. The Administration should also provide information on the redeployment of existing NLCDP teams in the next three years, and interim reports whenever there was any new development. Admin.

IV. Review of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 91/98-99(02) - submission by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Hong Kong Social Workers Association and Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union )

23. DSW briefed members on the following findings of the recent review on CSSA -

  1. CSSA cases had increased from 95,100 in 1993/94 to 195,600 in 1997/98, representing an increase by 106%;

  2. cases of the "old age, disabled and ill health" category and of the "single parents, low earnings and unemployment" category had increased by 82% and 260% respectively from 1993/94 to 1997/98;

  3. cases of the "unemployment" category and the "single parents" category had increased by 390% and 180% respectively from 1993/94 to 1997/98;

  4. CSSA recipients under the "unemployment" category had made up 22% of the unemployed people of Hong Kong in end 1997;

  5. expenditure on CSSA had increased from $2.4 billion in 1993/94 to $9.4 billion in 1997/98, representing an increase of 292%;

  6. the share of expenditure on CSSA made up 69.7% in the overall expenditure on social security;

  7. the average monthly CSSA allowances payments to four-member, five-member and six-member households were $10,740, $12,750 and $15,120 respectively, whereas the median wage of workers in all industries was only $10,266;

  8. the success rates of CSSA recipients and non-CSSA recipients in finding jobs through the Labour Department were 1.3% and 27.2% respectively; and

  9. the number of abuse cases with fraud established had shown an upward trend and these cases represented 0.03% of the total caseload in 1997/98.

24. DSW also briefed members on the Qualitative Study which sought to explore the problems faced by CSSA recipients who were unemployed or single parents. During the study, the Administration had provided counselling service and other support to some 250 participants. 55 of them had succeeded in finding jobs.

25. Mr LAW Chi-kwong referred to item (g) and pointed out that as CSSA was intended to satisfy the basic needs of the recipients, it was only appropriate to compare the average monthly CSSA payment with the median household income which was currently some $17,000. Mr Fred LI shared the view and added that the median wage was on an individual basis whereas the CSSA payment mentioned were paid to households sized between four to six members. He pointed out that the information provided was misleading. However, DSW took the view that if the average monthly CSSA payment was higher than the median wage in all industries, it would affect to a certain extent the recipients' initiatives to work.

26. In response to Mr LAW Chi-kwong's enquiry, DSW said that it would take about three more months' time to collect public views on CSSA and prepare the final report of the review. Members agreed to follow-up the matter in October 1998. Admin.
& Panel

27. Representatives of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Hong Kong Social Workers Association and the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union presented their views on the eligibility criteria for application of CSSA and the calculation of the CSSA standard rates. They suggested improvements be made to the amount of disregarded income and the child care service for single-parent families. They proposed that the Administration should launch a pilot scheme under which comprehensive support services would be provided to the unemployed CSSA recipients by social workers to help them to get back to work. The representatives also suggested that a Chinese medicine allowance should be provided to CSSA elderly recipients when the registration system for traditional Chinese medicine practitioners was put in place. In addition, they proposed some improvements be made to the existing allowances and provision of additional allowances for the elderly, people with a disability and other CSSA recipients. They also considered that the staffing level of the Social Security Field Units (SSFUs) should be strengthened to improve the services provided to the recipients.

28. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan supported that the amount of the disregarded income should be increased and requested the Administration to provide a special allowance to the unemployed CSSA recipients for dressing up to attend job interviews. He also wanted to know how many unemployed CSSA recipients were currently receiving the re-training service. In response, DSW said that the disregarded income which was currently set at $1,805 was being reviewed. He said that the Administration needed to consider whether a large increase in the amount might encourage people to work part-time only and rely on CSSA. He assured members that the Administration was committed to providing the appropriate counselling and support services to help the unemployed CSSA recipients to re-enter the labour market and adapt to new jobs

29. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan considered that there was not a disproportionately large increase in CSSA cases because the unemployment problem being faced by people now was far more serious than in 1993-94. He considered that given the downward trend of salaries, the average CSSA monthly payment should not be pitched at the median wage level. In response, DSW said that applications for CSSA due to unemployment had been rising rapidly since 1995 despite the fact that the unemployment rate in Hong Kong was very low one to two years ago. This had shown that there was no direct relation between the unemployment rate and the upward trend of the unemployed to apply for CSSA.

30. Mr LAW Chi-kwong did not support that CSSA recipients should be required to do voluntary work as the work nature might not be of use to them in getting jobs. He also suggested that the Administration should be lenient with the property owned by CSSA applicants as, in some cases, the property in question was only a flat in a pre-war tenement building. In response, DSW explained that the voluntary work proposed did not mean to penalize the CSSA recipients but served to prepare them for gainful employment. On cases involving CSSA applicants who owned properties, DSW said that the Administration had yet to decide on its policy in this regard.

31. Mr Fred LI reprimanded the Administration for not providing a paper on the subject before the meeting. He pointed out that if the statistical information presented at the meeting had been provided beforehand, it would have saved much time. The Chairman said that she had emphasized on several occasions that the relevant report and papers should be provided to the Panel to facilitate the discussion and expressed her dissatisfaction that no paper had been provided.

32. Mr Fred LI enquired what measures the Administration would take to strengthen the staffing level of SSFUs. He also requested the Administration to review the existing opening hours of child care centres which should operate from 8 am to 6 pm in order to cater for the needs of single parents who wished to work.

33. In response, DSW said that 115 additional staff would be provided to SSFUs so that 35,000 more home visits could be conducted. In addition, publicity would be stepped up to encourage the public to report suspected fraud cases and to warn the applicants that declaration of false information with a view to obtaining CSSA would be subject to prosecution. On child care service, DSW said that there were some 28,000 places with priority accorded to single-parent families. In addition, the Administration had provided support to assist the formation of mutual help child care groups in various districts to cater for the need for child care services. DSW also undertook to review the opening hours of child care centres. Admin.

34. In response to the suggestions made by the deputations, DSW said that the option of implementing the suggested pilot scheme would be considered. As regards textbook allowances for children of CSSA families, top-up payments would be provided if the flat-rate grant for school-related expenses could not cover the actual expenses. DSW explained that as the registration system for traditional Chinese medicine practitioners had yet to be established, the requested Chinese medicine allowance would be considered later. Admin.

35. The Chairman directed that the subject be followed up at the meeting to be held on 12 October 1998 and she suggested that the views of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Trade Unions on the subject could be sought then. Clerk

V. Review of School Social Work Service
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 89/98-99 (01) )

36. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that there were strong opposing views in the educational sector to the existing provision for Band 1 to Band 4 schools at the manning ratio of one school social worker to 2,000 students. He considered that students who achieved better academic results also had the need for supportive services to help them resolve their emotional and other problems. He requested that the Administration should provide one social worker for every school so that the students could receive better supportive services. He requested that while one school social worker should be made part of the establishment of each school, the social worker should be accountable not to the school principal but to an NGO in order to guarantee that the social worker could function independently in performing his/her duties. In response, the Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) (DD(S)) said that since the release of the draft Report on Review of School Social Work Service (the draft Report) for consultation, the Working Group on the review had received many submissions expressing similar views. She said that Mr CHEUNG's suggestion would be discussed by the Working Group. If the suggestion had the support of the Working Group, it would be included in its final report. The Assistant Director (Services) (AD(S)) of the Education Department (ED) added that ED was open on this issue and it would follow the decision of the Working Group. Mr LAW Chi-kwong said that if the Administration accepted that one social worker should be included as an integral part of the establishment of each school, there should be no problem to acquire for the necessary resources in achieving this goal as the cost thus incurred would be met under the item of "baseline-plus". DD(S) agreed to consider the suggestion. Admin.

37. Mr Fred LI enquired what position ED took on the suggestion of including one school social worker in the establishment of each school. In response, AD(S) said that some school principals had been consulted and they had divided views on this matter. Some school principals considered that there would be little chance for career advancement for the school social worker and also the school could only provide very limited support and professional training to the social worker. In view of the technical problems involved, ED had yet come to a view. However, Mr Fred LI considered that there would be no problems if the school social worker remained attached to the NGO and was only deployed to a school to provide school social work service. In response, AD(S) said that the suggestion had been considered by the Working Group and it was mentioned in paragraph 6.13 of the draft Report that school social worker should be included as an integral part of the school establishment. However, Mr Fred LI pointed out that the quoted context was not relevant as the proposal outlined in the paragraph only sought to provide for new schools to operate at the manning ratio of one school social worker to 1,500 student population. The Chairman requested AD(S) to provide later the relevant details to substantiate the point he made. Admin.

38. Mr HO Sai-chu and Miss Cyd HO supported the suggestion of providing one social worker to each school in order to alleviate the heavy caseload of school social workers and to improve the services. Mr HO Sai-chu considered that the resources implications of this suggestion would be minimal. He further proposed that the Panel should convey members' views to the Working Group.

39. The Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3) (Acting) said that as the consultation period would last until 19 September 1998, she welcomed members' views on school social work service. She said that the Administration would reflect members' views to the Working Group which would further study members' suggestions made at this meeting and the resources implications before coming to a conclusion. Admin.

40. The Panel passed a motion in support of the policy of providing one social worker to each school. In addition, the Chairman suggested and members agreed that the Panel should express its support for this policy to the Working Group. Clerk

41. The meeting ended at 12:58 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
28 August 1998