$10b relief for poor and elderly

Top News | Charlotte Luo 15 Jan 2020

About a million poor and elderly people are set for financial help totaling about HK10 billion under spending plans revealed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday.

That includes HK$2 fares on public transport for those of 60 and above.

And there will be more time off for workers, with the aim of "gradually" raising the number of statutory holidays from 12 days to 17.

That change is expected to benefit 30 percent of the working population, or over a million blue-collar workers. They are currently limited to 12 statutory holidays annually while most white-collar workers enjoy 17 general holidays.

"In order to improve the employment quality of grassroots workers, allow employees to enjoy consistent holiday benefits and deal with practices that have long been considered unfair in society, the government will invite the Labour Advisory Board to discuss gradually increasing the number of statutory holidays," Lam said.

On local travel, the age threshold is being lowered from 65 to 60 for the HK$2 per ride scheme. That is likely to cost taxpayers about HK$1.7 billion annually.

Other action includes the old age living allowance being standardized to HK$3,585 monthly, and the upper eligibility limit is raised to HK$500,000-worth of assets. That will cost around HK$5 billion.

Lam also said the government will contribute Mandatory Provident Fund savings for people who earn HK$7,100 per month or less, or 5 percent of their monthly salary.

Moreover, there will be subsidies for people who have waited for public housing for more than three years.

There are also plans to offer 5,000 more transitional housing units and to look into rent controls for sub-divided flats. "In my policy address in 2019, I promised to provide 10,000 transitional housing units in the next three years," Lam said.

"The land we acquired can reach this target. So I hope to keep up the work and lift the target to 15,000 units."

And a cash subsidy will be provided by the Community Care Fund for the jobless. To be eligible someone would have to be unemployed for over a month between April 1 this year and March 31 next year. "It's a very preliminary estimate, but the new measures on livelihood issues this time are expected to invest HK$10 billion in recurrent expenditure," Lam said.

She estimated that more than a million people will benefit from the 10 new measures.

"There are still many issues to handle in Hong Kong," she added. "We hope the measures will help the disadvantaged."

Asked if she was seeking to shift the focus from pro-democracy protesters' demands, Lam said her sole aim is to help the public and improve the livelihoods of the disadvantaged.

She admitted her administration previously had different stances on some of the measures, but it is having "a sort of breakthrough" in thinking.

Legislator Wilson Or Chong-shing of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong noted that the measures target grassroots people but did the middle class.

And he saw the measures on transitional housing as just "a drop in the bucket."

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said there are many problems in society that have not been solved, and he saw the measures revealed yesterday as an attempt to "camouflage" the real issues.

Kwok also said the administration should not think these "petty favors" can win popular support and offset the protest movement's five demands.

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