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The Society for Community Organisation (SoCo) spokesperson Ng Wai-tung, welcomes the move as better late than never. He suggests $2,000 would be the ideal amount.

For long-term patients, there is the Disability Allowance. However, those who get the $1,280 Disability Allowance will not be given the Old Age Allowance. It means the elderly who are also chronically ill are only entitled to $280 more than their healthy peers.

For elderly people on tight budgets, the $280 really matters. Until this September, 71-year-old Ms. Ho was receiving the Disability Allowance for regular treatments for pain she was suffering following leg surgery. But after her doctor evaluated her condition and decided she was fine, the government replaced her Disability Allowance with the Old Age Allowance.

Ho says she still experiences pain in her legs and feels angry and disappointed about the reduction in her payments. She is now appealing the case.

SoCo’s Ng says the government lacks sincerity when it comes to medical welfare for the elderly. “The government responds quickly to the requests of land developers. But when it comes to elderly poverty, it muddles through its work.” He cites the example of the scrapping of the Commission on Poverty in 2007.

But material assistance is only the first step. Establishing a long-term policy with clear objectives is the key to eradicating elderly poverty. The Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) System, launched in 2000 will reach maturity by 2030. It should ensure the provision of retirement protection for members of the workforce. But there are still loopholes.

CUHK’s Wong Chak-kie says, “People receiving less than $5,000 a month do not have to pay for their MPF. Their employers pay for it solely. The amount contributed is not enough to support living at today’s standards. How can you expect that there will be enough in the future?” What is more, the MPF does not cover people who are not in paid employment, such as homemakers.

To better protect the quality of life of the elderly, Wong suggests that the multi-tier social security system proposed by the World Bank in the 1990s could be a better alternative.

Hong Kong currently has two of the three pillars recommended in the model, namely a mandatory and private-funded pension scheme, and a voluntary personal money-saving habit. The missing element is a universal pension provided by the government. Wong suggests it could be in the form of social insurance, with productive members of society supporting retired people.

Although it is hard to predict what policies the government may introduce in the future, one thing is sure: the population is aging. Hong Kong’s elderly population will reach 2,061,900 in 2029. According to  the HKCSS, on the current course, there will be 842,000 old people living in poverty by 2039.

“The elderly poverty problem will get much worse if something is not done promptly,” says Ng Wai-tung