Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1139/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 9 November 1998 at 10:45 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

Hon CHAN Yuen-han (Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
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

Members Absent :

Hon HO Sai-chu, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon David CHU Yu-lin

Public Officers Attending :

Item II - Services for young people

Mr Robin GILL
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3)

Mrs Patricia CHU
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services)

Miss Victoria TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health & Welfare (Welfare 2)

Mr John WAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (1)

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

Item III - Social Welfare Services Development Fund

Mr Robin GILL
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3)

Mrs Louise WONG
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)

Miss Victoria TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health & Welfare (Welfare 2)
Deputations Attending:
Hong Kong Council of Social Service
Mr Paul K C CHAN

Hong Kong Social Workers Association
Mr CHAN Wing-kin

Hong Kong Social Workers General Union
Mr CHEUNG Kwok-che
Clerk in Attendance :
Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4
Staff in Attendance:
Mrs Eleanor CHOW
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4
I. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 560/98-99(09))

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

  1. Integrated Neighbourhood Projects Service; and

  2. Review of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme.
2. The Chairman suggested and members agreed that if the report on the review of the CSSA scheme was released well before the December meeting, a special briefing would be arranged.

3. In response to the Chairman, Mr LAW Chi-Kwong suggested that the review of the rapid expansion of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and its role in the provision of direct social services, which was originally scheduled to be discussed at the next meeting, could be deferred to January 1999. Members agreed.

II. Services for young people
(LC Papers Nos. CB(2) 560/98-99(02) and (03))

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3) (DSHW) introduced LC Paper No. CB(2) 560/98-99(02) which gave an overview of the social welfare services available for young people. Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS/HA) briefed members on LC Paper No. CB(2) 560/98-99(03) which set out the principles and direction of youth development and the Government's role in the process.

Division of responsibilities

5. A few members expressed concern about the fragmentation of responsibilities among respective policy bureaux and departments such as the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB) and the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) in the delivery of youth services. They were particularly concerned about the possible overlapping of youth programmes and questioned why the formulation of youth policies and their implementation had not been centralized under a single body to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan opined that youth policies should be put under the control of the HWB, given that it had already established an effective network with the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the provision of youth services.

6. DSHW, PAS/HA and Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) responded with the following points -

  1. As far as youth services were concerned, the delineation of responsibilities between the HWB and the HAB and the youth programmes provided by them was clear and distinct. HWB focused on the welfare aspect in particular for the youth at risk while the HAB dealt with the youth developmental aspect. The two were separate but not mutually exclusive. Apart from the HWB and the HAB, youth policies were also implemented through the Education and Manpower Bureau in respect of education, and the Security Bureau in respect of programmes which sought to protect and rehabilitate the more vulnerable youths. There might be some overlapping areas but the relevant bureaux would co-ordinate their efforts to minimise any duplication that existed;

  2. The Government would facilitate youth development by assuming a leading role. It would continue rendering support to NGOs which were the main providers of youth services. Given the NGOs' networking ability in providing services, their familiarity with the local situation and their ability to deploy resources cost-effectively, the Government would refrain from giving instructions to NGOs on specifics, as this would stifle their initiatives, to the detriment of youth development work. As to a member's suggestion that the HWB should centralize control on youth policies, the Administration was of the view that the HAB should continue to assume the co-ordinating role for youth development and promotion of civic awareness and moral values, and in conjunction with all parties concerned, to provide and sustain an environment for the proper development of youth; and

  3. The concept of voluntary work embraces a whole range of activities. The Administration did not see any problem for the SWD and the HAB running their respective voluntary schemes. The overlapping of volunteer services in the youth programmes in some areas could be seen as positive reinforcement of the need for better support for the young people. In the past year, more than 90 000 young persons had participated in more than two million hours of voluntary work and the programme was conducive to instilling a community caring attitude in young people. The Administration had already started a pilot funding scheme in consultation with the Commission on Youth (the Commission) , and had earmaked $10 million to sponsor NGOs to provide more voluntary work opportunities for young school leavers.
7. Miss Cyd HO said that there was a lack of central point of direction for the overall co-ordination and policy of youth programmes. She considered it necessary to review the terms of reference and the structure of the Home Affairs Department (HAD) in order that it could perform more than a co-ordinating role in youth matters.

8. Mr Eric LI declared interest as the Chairman of the Commission. He explained that the functions of government bureaux were demarcated by policy areas rather than by age group, sex or sectors of the community. Given that various government departments, youth groups and NGOs were all involved in the provision of youth services, it was difficult to centralize the function under one government department. To this end, the Commission played an important role to advise the Government on matters pertaining to the development of youth. The Commission had drawn up the Charter for Youth (the Charter) in 1993. The Charter enunciated the principles on youth development and provided a point of reference for policy makers, youth service providers and others involved in promoting the welfare of youth. The Commission had carried out studies and put forward specific recommendations for the Government's consideration. It also liaised with various NGOs and other service providers to ensure that they were pursuing policies which sought to realize the ideals and principles in the Charter. The Commission adopted a holistic approach, whereby the Commission played an advisory and steering role while all other parties concerned were responsible for making optimum use of their resources in delivery of services to ensure a cost-effective way to implement youth policies.

Youth policy

9. Mr LAW Chi-kwong commented that the two papers set out the services available to young people but failed to look into their actual needs and develop services to meet these needs. He urged the Administration to review the overall youth services with a view to providing a comprehensive policy on youth. Miss Cyd HO considered that the Government had high expectation of young people but had not provided sufficient resources to help them.

10. DSHW and PAS/HA replied with the following comments-

  1. The Government's policy on youth was very clear. The Government had all along recognized young people as valuable assets of society and had made major efforts in the promotion of services to enhance the development of young people into responsible citizens of the community. The Government had consistently embodied the principles and ideals of the Charter in its policy formulation and sought the advice of the Commission on issues relating to youth. It strongly believed that the proper and balanced development of youths required the co-operation, participation and co-ordination between the Government and the NGOs as well as the family, schools, employers, media, youth groups and young people themselves. The ultimate objective was to foster a favourable environment for young people to acquire knowledge and skills, develop and uphold positive values, nurture self-esteem and become useful members of the community;

  2. The two papers were intended to provide members with an account of certain services available to young people. The Government had been adopting a holistic approach to meet the different needs of young people through a diverse range of services. It did not operate on a static basis as there were on-going reviews to ascertain the changing needs of young people and their expectations of service delivery. For example, SWD was developing leadership training programmes to cater for the needs of young people. It would also consider how different services could be better interfaced so as to ensure that the best possible support services were available; and

  3. The Administration did not agree that it had not provided sufficient funding for the provision of youth services. In 1998-99, about $1.2 billion was spent on youth programmes covering the programmes of welfare services and community development.
11. In response to Mr Fred LI's concern about young people becoming more tolerant towards graft and corruption and were apathetic to public and community affairs, PAS/HA advised that the Commission had recently carried out a study on how young people could take up a more active role in building up the Hong Kong Administrative Region and in voluntary services. The study found that -
  1. the majority of youths in Hong Kong (70%-80%) were oriented towards values pertaining to benevolence, universalism. tradition, and conformity. They valued family, friendship, honesty, responsibility and peace of mind;

  2. a small but significant percentage of youths in Hong Kong (20%-30%) were oriented towards values pertaining to wealth, hedonism and stimulation. They would use unethical means to achieve their ends; and

  3. Youths in Hong Kong in general did not value highly power and self-direction. They were essentially self-centred and their interest in politics was in general low.
12. PAS/HA said that the Commission had made the following recommendations, among others, to address some of the problems highlighted by the study -
  1. The widely accepted positive values among the young people should be reinforced so as to equip them with the necessary social and life skills. As these values were enshrined in the Charter, the promotion of the Charter should be stepped up;

  2. Structured leadership training programmes should be developed and provided on a continuing basis at every stage of a youth's development so that young people would be more confident and motivated to take up responsibilities and be competitive in the region; and

  3. Care and regards for others, particularly the more vulnerable and less fortunate in the community, should be encouraged and developed by promoting young people's participation in voluntary work.
13. Mr Eric LI said that the study had already been submitted to the Chief Executive who in principle endorsed the recommendations made by the Commission. He noted that the Administration would need sometime to put the proposals into action.

Unemployment of youth

14. Members pointed out that the rate of unemployment amongst young people aged between 15 and 19 was more than double the overall rate of unemployment. They urged the Administration to implement effective measures to improve the situation. A few members expressed concern about insufficient counselling being provided to fresh secondary school-leavers who were faced with family, employment and social problems.

15. DSHW said that a wide range of services, including social security payment and counselling services, were available to young people who were unemployed. In addition, through the Lotteries Fund, a number of new initiatives had recently been devised by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, with the specific aim of helping young unemployed people. The SWD also worked closely with the Labour Department and the various retraining boards to provide support and opportunities to young people. As regards young school-leavers and other unemployed youths aged between 16 and 24, they could receive the full range of services which the Government provided, including counselling service available through family service centres, as well as youth centre-based services, outreach social work service, other group and community work services, etc. If there was an indication that a portion of the population had an overwhelming need for a specific type of service, the Administration would respond to that demand, and welfare groups would likely also assist.

16. Assistant Director of Social Services (Youth and Training) (ADSW) supplemented that the SWD had recently discussed with the Education Department and NGOs on how to assist fresh school-leavers to find jobs, make arrangement in advance for those who had no intention to further their studies, and provide counselling and retraining services.

17. Mr Eric LI pointed out that the problem of youth unemployment had started as early as July 1998 but it only began to surface in October 1998. He said that the Commission had already urged the Labour Department to deal with the problem. He would also reflect members' concern to the Commission. Noting that the Task Force on Employment chaired by the Financial Secretary would be meeting in the following week, members agreed that a letter should be sent to the Task Force urging it to tackle the problem expeditiously.

(Post-meeting note: A letter was sent to the Task force on Employment on 11 November 1998)

Children and Youth Centres

18. In response to members' enquiries, ADSW confirmed that all the Children and Youth Centres (CYCs) were equipped with personal computers (PCs). The SWD had been allocated with $30 million under the Lotteries Fund since June 1998 for the purpose of enhancing computer facilities in CYCs. All the CYCs were installed with additional PCs where space allowed. In addition, the SWD was working closely with the Education Department to interface school and CYC network to facilitate young people to continue practising computer skills after school. The Education and Manpower Bureau also had plans to strengthen computer facilities in these centres.

III. Social Welfare Services Development Fund
(LC Papers Nos. CB(2) 128/98-99(01) and 560/98-99(04)

19. The Chairman welcomed representatives of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Hong Kong Social Workers' Association and the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union to the meeting. She informed the meeting that two motions urging the Government to establish a Social Welfare Services Development Fund (the Fund) moved by Mr Eric LI and Mr CHAN Kam-lam were carried at the Council meetings on 1 April 1998 and 8 July 1998 respectively. However, the Administration had not responded positively to the proposal.

20. A representative of the three organisations said that details of their concerns were set out in the submission but he would like to highlight the following points -

  1. The rapid increase in CSSA cases had adversely affected resource allocation for social welfare development;

  2. The Administration had lagged far behind in the provisions of welfare services committed in the White Paper on "Social Welfare into the 1990s and Beyond" (the White Paper). To compensate for the past years' shortfall and inadequacy of social welfare services, the provision of $3.4 billion for the establishment of the Fund to ensure the steady development of social welfare services was recommended;

  3. The economic downturn had given rise to increasing demand for social welfare, but the Government had not allocated more resources to cope with the situation given the constraint that expenditure should commensurate with the overall economic growth. Establishing the Fund would provide a stabilizing effect during economic recession;

  4. Reviewing, refocusing and re-engineering existing services and enhancing flexibility in the deployment of resources would help to improve productivity and service quality to a certain extent but they were not the total solution. It was still necessary to inject additional funding to make up for the shortfall in the past and to meet new and rising demand for social welfare services. Planned projects which had not been implemented due to a lack of resources should not be abandoned; and

  5. The three organizations called upon Members of the LegCo to assist in urging the Government to respond positively to the proposal.
21. DSHW responded with the following-
  1. The Administration saw no reason to change from its earlier position regarding the setting up of the Fund. The Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Health and Welfare had both explained the position very clearly in the two earlier motion debates. The Government operated according to very prudent financial management and budgetary principles which had served Hong Kong extremely well over the years. As such, the Administration saw no justification to deviate from this philosophy or practice;

  2. As regards the relationship between social security payments and provision of direct services, the Administration did not accept the contention that because more money was spent on social security payment, provision for direct service was being left behind. In fact, provision for CSSA and direct services had remained at a fairly constant two-third and one-third ratio for the last 10 years;

  3. The Administration did not accept the implication that the Government was not providing sufficient resources for welfare services, particularly in the current economic climate. Social welfare had continued to consume a large and ever increasing proportion of overall public recurrent expenditure, taking up 8.3% in 1992-93 and 12.5% in 1998-99. Total expenditure was expected to continue to increase and the public could continue to count on the Government's commitment to providing services for those in genuine need. As mentioned by the Chief Executive in this year's Policy Address, there were a number of new initiatives coming on stream; and

  4. The vast majority of the pledges in the White Paper had been met, although there were one or two areas where the commitments had not been met in full. The White Paper had made it clear that service commitments would be implemented subject to the availability of resources.
22. Members expressed concern about the distribution of resources between social security payments and direct social services, given that the two were competing with each other for resources. With a growing ageing population and rising demand for social security payments from the unemployed, it would mean resources for direct services would be greatly reduced in the coming years.

23. Representatives of the Administration replied with the following points -

  1. Both CSSA and provision of direct services were charges on the public purse. At present, the Government was still able to meet its social security liabilities and also find money for the provision of new direct services;

  2. The Administration noted that the expenditure for elderly services had grown by 50% from 1997-98 to 1998-99, including among others, social security payments and direct social services. Having regard to limited resources, the Administration had to determine priorities but would nevertheless ensure that a safety net would be provided to people in real need; and

  3. The ratio for CSSA payments and allocation to the SWD had been very consistent. The estimated figures for 1998-99 were $ 16.5 billion and $23.5 billion respectively. New money had been provided for direct services in every one of the last 10 years and this trend would likely continue. Subvention on direct services in 1992-93 was only $1.8 billion but would reach $ 5.4 billion in 1998-99, representing a three-fold increase within six years.
24. Members present at the meeting were in support of the establishment of the Fund. They expressed concern that resources for direct services were given lower priority and the amount of funding was subject to further reduction at the discretion of the Administration, because unlike social security, there was no committed target. Members' views were summarised below -
  1. It appeared that resources allocated to direct services were not in line with the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Given that the growth of GDP had far exceeded the targets in recent years, funding for direct services should have been increased by a corresponding amount. However, the provision of direct services was still lagging behind the targets set in the White Paper. Although there was new money injected to direct services, they were provided on a fire fighting basis;

  2. The Administration had only emphasized how much it had spent on social welfare but had not revealed the fact that only 3% of the total public expenditure was spent on direct services;

  3. Some of the commitments dated back to 1981 were not yet met. For instance, the caseload for each family caseworker in 1981-82, 1992-93 and 1998-99 was regressing at a target of 50, 65 and 70 per month respectively; and

  4. The Administration had allocated substantial funding to enhance the education system and for the development of infrastructure but was unwilling to commit on social welfare.
25. DSHW reiterated that the Administration had to adhere to the prudent financial management principles that kept expenditure generally within the limits of revenue, as well as the tread growth rate in the local economy. He reaffirmed the Administration's commitment to develop and provide quality welfare services to those in genuine need. He made the following points to clarify some of the points raised by members -
  1. The Administration did not agree that direct welfare services had not received a fair share of GDP growth in the last six to seven years, given that it had increased by three-fold within the past six years;

  2. The White Paper had clearly stated that all of the new policy directions and initiatives were subject to the availability of resources. The vast majority of the items set out in the White Paper had been implemented and there were many areas in which the targets had been far exceeded. There were also many new services introduced since the White Paper was drafted and members should not focus only on the small number of items where the targets had not been achieved, as the Administration had not suggested that it would not continue to endeavour to meet these targets;

  3. The Administration had been able to secure new money for direct services in addition to social security payments. The Chief Executive had already announced new initiatives to enhance direct social services including among others, the provision of additional family caseworkers; and

  4. The Administration had not been able to reduce the caseload for individual family caseworkers from 70 to 50 a month because the total caseload had increased substantially despite the fact that new resources had been injected into the service. At present, the Administration was only able to maintain a caseload of about 70 per caseworker per month but it would continue to try to work towards a lower ratio. The SWD was also looking into caseload management to see how this could be further enhanced.
26. A representative of the three organizations pointed out that the ratio of social security payment and direct services was able to be maintained at a ratio of two-third and one-third because the Administration had injected $2.3 billion to direct services in 1992-93. He said that as public spending for social security payment continued to go up in the current economic climate, it was inevitable that resources allocated to direct social services would be reduced. He urged the Administration to seriously consider the setting up of the Fund.

27. The Chairman said that members of the Panel supported in principle the views of the deputations. The Panel would follow-up the matter with the Administration. She thanked the representatives for attending the meeting.

28. The meeting ended at 12:48 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
6 January 1999