SCMP Thursday, November 8, 2001

Calls for higher old-age allowance endorsed


Calls to increase the monthly allowance for elderly people were endorsed by the legislature last night despite a government warning about the heavy financial burden.
But the Liberal Party rejected the proposal and called for a means test to screen out better-off senior citizens. Anyone aged 70 or above is eligible for the government subsidy of $705 a month. At present about 455,500 people receive the allowance. Democrat Yeung Sum, who sponsored the non-binding motion, also condemned the Government for dragging its feet on reviewing the scheme.
A review was announced by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 1998. Last year he promised to complete it within 12 months but little progress has been made.
Mr Yeung said about 200,000 people depended on the monthly allowance and urged the Government to increase the rate.
Unionist legislator Chan Yuen-han said many young people could not afford to support their elderly parents in the face of the economic downturn.
But Tommy Cheung Yu-yan of the Liberal Party argued there should be a means test to ensure that only those in need of assistance be paid the allowance. "Without a means test, simply increasing the allowance will only increase the Government's financial burden," he said.
Secretary for Health and Welfare Yeoh Eng-kiong said senior citizens might become too dependent on the old-age allowance if the rate was increased. Dr Yeoh also said the Government could not afford the increase.
An estimated 11.1 per cent of the population is aged 65 or above. The percentage is predicted to rise to 13.3 by 2016. Even if the scheme remained unchanged, taxpayers would have to foot a $300 billion bill for old age allowances and public assistance schemes for elderly people over the next 20 years.
About 100 elderly people petitioned officials and legislators outside Legco last night, demanding the allowance be increased to $1,000.