Lam, lawmakers clash over dole ageTop News | Phoenix Un 11 Jan 2019
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says she cannot go back on raising the eligibility age for elderly subsidy since it has been the Legislative Council that approved it.
The earlier announcement that only those aged 65 and above - instead of from 60 - would be eligible for elderly subsidy under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance from February 1 has surprised many people.
The issue was a major concern during Lam's first question-and-answer session this year at the Legislative Council, where Eunice Yung Hoi-yan of New People's Party said the elderly are very unhappy with the policy.
"People believe that the government should not point a sword at the elderly," Yung said, adding Lam should withdraw the measure.
But Lam, 61, said the item was in the 2018 budget.
"I am surprised to hear you asking for its withdrawal since record shows that it was legislators who had approved it," Lam said. "This is an item in the approved budget."
The item, listed in the section of the 2018 budget under the Social Welfare Department, said: "Commenced preparatory work for implementing the Higher Old Age Living Allowance and raising the eligible age for elderly CSSA from 60 to 65."
Lam said the measure is not aimed at saving money but intended to keep track of the aging population. Roy Kwong Chun-yu of the Democratic Party accused Lam of playing games with words.
Lam said there is no way to scrap the policy and that the CSSA still covers people aged 60 to 64 as it provides ill health or adult subsidy.
Wilson Or Chong-shing of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said adult subsidy is over HK$1,000 lower than elderly subsidy. But Lam insisted that the change had been explained clearly in the budget previously.
The 2018 budget, passed on May 10 last year, won the support of 43 legislators, but opposed by 11 lawmakers.
Eight others abstained. Of the 43 lawmakers, 39 were pro-establishment, including all 13 DAB legislators.
Leung Che-cheung said he was surprised and dissatisfied with Lam's claim that the pro-establishment camp supported raising the age threshold.
DAB vice chairman Gary Chan Hak-kan said Lam was being unfair.
"The budget came in a basket and we only approved it as a whole. I believe such controversial issues should be discussed separately in panels instead of going on fishing expeditions in troubled waters."
Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who did not vote for the budget, admitted that he failed to notice that particular item back then.