For the Tse’s, the payments are hardly adequate for leading a secure and dignified life. Mr Tse is 74 and his wife is 75. They each get the Old Age Allowance and monthly CSSA payments of $2,000.
They live on the seventh floor of an old public housing estate in Shek Kip Mei with no elevators. The couple’s home is cramped and dark. Worn-out clothes and old newspapers are everywhere. The beds are so small that there is hardly enough room to turn over in them. There are no large electrical appliances, just a fan, a television set and a small cooker. The walls show signs of water leakage.
Mr Tse says they economise by eating less and worse. “At every meal, each of us can only eat two pieces from each dish. Just two pieces, we don’t eat any more than that.”
He used to go to markets in Sham Shui Po where cheap food can be found very early in the mornings. “Though in such a dark environment, you often don’t know whether the food is fresh or not,” Tse jokes.
Seeing how the government is prepared to spend lavishly when it comes to bidding to host the Asian Games, Tse complains that the suffering of the deprived is not due to a scarcity of social resources, rather the government is shirking its obligations. He strongly urges the administration to raise the amount of the Old Age Allowance.
Although the elderly can scrimp and calculate every aspect of their expenditure, they cannot avoid medical expenses, both expected and unforeseen. The government offers public medical services at $45, and charges an extra $10 for each drug. Each elderly person is also given a medical voucher of $250 each year. However, many are terrified of falling ill.
Mrs Tse had a stroke early in the year. With no money for additional medication, she only takes $10 medication for blood pressure and inflammation offered by the public hospital. “As a poor person, you must hope you don’t get cancer,” says her husband. “Cancer patients have to take expensive treatments.”
Connie Ng Man-yin, the service manager of the People’s Food Bank of St. James Settlement, estimates those with chronic diseases need a minimum income of $5,000 a month. “It is because they have to make frequent trips to see their doctors and get medications. Diabetes patients are especially in need of more money, as they have to buy very expensive testing paper.”
As for the medical voucher, Ms. Lam, 85, blew her one and only medical voucher on a single visit to a private clinic. “One time, then it [the voucher] is gone,” says Lam. The small amount is even insufficient if used in public hospitals. Lam hopes the government can raise the amount to cover her frequent medical expenses.
In the latest Policy Address, the Chief Executive stated that this is currently being considered by the government.