Impoverished elderly people not on CSSA face deficit of $545 per month

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2010-12-19

Government should provide meal allowance and increase health care vouchers

Oxfam Hong Kong today published the results of its survey, “The living and health conditions of poor elderly people not on CSSA and their attitudes towards social security”. The survey, commissioned by Oxfam and conducted by Policy 21 Limited, examines the acute poverty of elderly people in Hong Kong. According to government statistics, there are 351,511 elderly people aged 65 or above living in poverty. This constitutes a poverty rate of 40%, the highest among all age groups.

The survey revealed that the average monthly expenses of poor elderly people are HK$3,904, and they earn HK$3,359 on average. This means they face a deficit of $545 every month. Despite the deficit, over 90% of the respondents, though qualified, are not receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). Respondents indicated that their major expenses included meals, rental/mortgage payments, transportation and medical care.

“It is a shame that in this wealthy city, such a large proportion of our older citizens are not receiving sufficient assistance from the social security net. We urge the government to take immediate action, including providing meal allowances and increasing the number of health care vouchers provided to the elderly people, as well as removing the limits for applying for the Old Age Allowance, so as to lift the elderly people out of poverty,” said Kalina Tsang, Manager of Oxfam’s Hong Kong Programme.

The Survey

The survey was conducted by Policy 21 Limited with 541 respondents aged 60 or above who are eligible for but not receiving CSSA, in 10 selected areas with a high proportion of older persons and low-income households. The main findings are as follows:

Impoverished elderly people face a deficit of up to $545 per month

  • The average monthly personal income of the target respondents was about HK$3,359, but their average monthly spending was HK$3,904. They faced a deficit up to $545 every month.

Nearly 80% of elderly respondents are chronically ill

  • About 78% of the respondents reported having chronic illnesses and about 10.2% had been admitted to hospitals during the six months before the survey.

Major expenses of respondents

  • Respondents listed their four top expenditures as: a) meal expenses (including eating out and at home); b) rental payments (or mortgages) for their places of residence (including management fees and rates); c) payments for water, electricity, gas, telephone and internet; and d) traveling expenses and medical and health care expenses.

Over 90% of respondents never applied for CSSA

  • Among the respondents, 92.8% (413 people), though qualified, had never applied for CSSA. Common reasons included “having children’s support”, “preferring to earn their own living”, “not willing to rely on CSSA only” and “not knowing the application procedure”.

A majority (70.6%) perceived application procedure for CSSA as complicated

  • Although the majority of respondents (91.5%) had heard of CSSA previously, 70.6% of them perceived that the application procedure for CSSA was complicated.

A majority of poor elderly are aged 75 or above, and a majority are women

  • According to the survey, 60.8% of the respondents were aged 75 or above. This is a much higher proportion than among the over 60 population in Hong Kong, of which only 33.3% are 75 or older. The percentage of women (60.6%) was also higher than men (39.4%); the Hong Kong average is 51.7% women.

Recommendations

In light of these findings, Oxfam Hong Kong urges the government to take the following measures immediately:

  1. Increase elderly health care vouchers: The government should a) increase the number of health care vouchers it provides to the elderly from 5 to 12; b) increase the amount of each voucher from HK$50 to HK$100 (for a total of HK$1,200); and c) lower the age of eligibility from 70 or above to 65 or above.

  2. Consider providing a meal allowance to the elderly people: According to our survey, low-income elderly people spend a proportionately large share of their income on food. Their mean food expenditure is $1,876 per month (on average $60 per day, $20 per meal). We suggest that the government explore the feasibility of providing elderly people a meal allowance up to $600 per month (i.e. $20 per day) so as to lessen their burden in meeting their food expenses.

  3. Institute a HK$2 fare for all public transport without time limit: Given that the MTR Corporation Limited enjoys a railway franchise and has been making profits over the years without ever suffering a deficit, the company should fulfill its corporate social responsibility (CSR) and make its services affordable to grassroots citizens including the impoverished elderly. As the MTR’s majority shareholder, the government should ensure that the MTR fulfills its CSR. It should be noted that a HK$2 promotion on Sundays was adopted by the MTR for years, but it was stopped in 2009. We call on the MTR and other public transport corporations to provide $2 concessionary fares for the elderly on all days, without time limits. This will enable elderly people to enjoy activities with family members and friends. We also call on the bus companies to provide the same concessions without any time limit. 

  4. Abolish income and assets limits for Normal Old Age Allowance: The government should abolish the income and assets limits imposed on recipients of the Normal OAA. In addition, in order to provide elderly people with greater flexibility in traveling out of Hong Kong, we urge the government: a) to abolish the requirement of having resided in Hong Kong continuously for at least one year immediately before the date of application for the OAA; and b) to abolish the limit on absence from Hong Kong.

  5. Consider a rental allowance: The government should explore the feasibility of providing a rental allowance to impoverished elderly people on the public housing waiting list, allowing them to rent private accommodations until they receive a public housing flat.

  6. Simplify the CSSA application procedure: The government should take the initiative in promoting the eligibility criteria for applying for CSSA to needy elderly people, and should simplify the application procedure.

  7. Introduce a universal pension scheme: In order to provide sufficient assistance and financially sustainable retirement to all the older persons in Hong Kong, we urge the government: a) to study the feasibility of introducing a universal retirement protection scheme without further delay; and b) to provide a concrete timetable for publishing the findings of the Central Policy Unit's studies on retirement protection.

Background of the survey

In August 2010, there were 688,079 older persons (or 53.4% of the Hong Kong elderly) under the Old Age CSSA scheme or OAA scheme. However, a significant number of impoverished elderly people who are eligible to receive CSSA are not receiving this assistance. This group of people should be included in the social security protection.  As no research had been conducted to study the situation of this group of people, Oxfam Hong Kong commissioned Policy 21 Limited to conduct research on the living conditions, health conditions and attitudes towards the CSSA scheme of this group of poor elderly people.

The survey was conducted from 24 July 2010 to 23 August 2010. Data required for the study were collected through face-to-face household interviews. A total of 541 persons out of 728 living quarters with target respondents were successfully surveyed, constituting a response rate of 74%. In each household, a resident aged 60 or above was interviewed.

About Oxfam Hong Kong

Oxfam Hong Kong is an independent international development and humanitarian organization working against poverty and related injustice. We recognise that much poverty is caused by injustice and that poverty alleviation requires economic, social and structural changes. We work with people facing poverty and with partner organizations on development and humanitarian projects, policy advocacy and public education.

About Policy 21

Policy 21 has more than 10 years of experience in conducting statistical and public opinion surveys, devising sampling plans for selecting representative and unbiased respondents, analyzing data systematically and professionally, and presenting findings to the public, media, professionals, interest groups and policy makers. 

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