Economists pour scorn on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s HK$10 billion welfare package

Jeffie Lam

Economists and lawmakers have slammed the latest relief measures aimed at Hong Kong’s “silver haired” and low-income groups, calling them “redundant” and saying they had not been examined or undergone consultation.

Of the HK$10 billion-a-year package unveiled on Tuesday by Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the measure which courted the most controversy was the expansion of the fare concession scheme, which allows residents aged 60 or above – rather than the current 65 – to travel on public transport for just HK$2 a trip.

Economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu poured scorn on the measure, which Lam said was to encourage employment.

“It is not difficult for people aged 60 to 64 to find jobs in Hong Kong,” Kwan, director of ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research, said.

Those over the age of 60 will be able to use public transport for HK$2 per trip. Photo: Sam Tsang

“The measure is redundant. It would make more sense to put more effort into encouraging employment among those aged 65 or above.”

Kwan also warned the cost of the scheme would balloon amid a fast-greying population, and said public transport operators – such as the MTR Corporation – would be the biggest beneficiaries.

Around one-third of the population in Hong Kong will be aged 60 or above by 2030, according to government estimates.

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The Labour Party accused the government of making a U-turn on its policies. The government had previously raised the age threshold for the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) from 60 to 65, saying it was responding to the rising life expectancy and the trend of retiring at 65.

The party said the government should demand the transport operators fulfil their social responsibility by bearing part of the expense, rather than just benefiting.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong on Tuesday said that the eligible age of different policies would vary depending on their aims.

“There is no single line drawn,” he said.

It doesn’t matter whether I can travel for HK$2 or not. What matters is whether one can still find a job when one is already over 60

Wong, retiree

Law said the government was considering calling services for those aged 60 to 64 as being for the “silver aged”, a reference to the concept of the “silver haired market”.

May Wong, 61, who lives in Mong Kok and works at a garment stall in Causeway Bay, said she could save more than HK$400 per month under the new scheme.

She said the subsidy would allow her to travel to the countryside and believed it could encourage more people aged over 60 to return to the workforce.

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But a retiree, also surnamed Wong, 60, said the scheme had no relevance to his job-seeking plans.

“It doesn’t matter whether I can travel for HK$2 or not. What matters is whether one can still find a job when one is already over 60,” he said.

Lulu Chan, 64, believed few people over the age of 60 would choose to work again.

“Those who are above 60 and already working don’t really care too much about the HK$2,” she said.

Law Chi-kwong eligible age of different policies would vary. Photo: Felix Wong

Chan, who works in Causeway Bay as a shopkeeper, said she lived nearby so she would not be able to save much from the scheme.

Holden Chow Ho-ding, vice-chairman of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said they were glad the government finally responded to their proposal, made a few years ago, to extend travel subsidies to residents aged 60 or above.

Meanwhile, other major measures announced on Tuesday included a gradual increase in the number of statutory holidays to 17, benefiting blue-collar workers who only get 12 public holidays each year.

But Felix Chung Kwok-pan, leader of the business-friendly Liberal Party, said they were not consulted beforehand, and he believed it would take 10 to 15 years to implement the measure given the lack of consensus in society.

“It is more like lip service to woo the public for now,” he said.

The Business and Professionals Alliance also urged the government to listen to the views of the sector on increasing the holidays to avoid any backlash.

Additional reporting by Natalie Wong and Kanis Leung

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