V. Improving People’s Livelihood
140. Housing, healthcare, welfare services and other livelihood issues are closely related to the daily lives of our people. They are the pillars of a caring and inclusive society. For Hong Kong people to call this place their home, the Government must ensure the provision of safe and proper accommodation, trustworthy healthcare services and reliable social support. Hong Kong people are by nature kind and willing to help others. The Government should further engage in tripartite co-operation with the community and the business sector to make Hong Kong an inclusive society where people of different races, professions, ages and physical abilities live together in peace and harmony. Whether in poverty alleviation, care for the elderly or support for the disadvantaged, the Government should adhere to the following principles in formulating policies: pro-child, pro-family, pro-work and pro-user. On the provision of social services, we should promote cross-sector and cross-profession collaboration as well as public-private partnership to make better use of our resources and provide more comprehensive care for the needy in society. I must point out, however, that as public resources are not without limits, the policies and measures for improving people’s livelihood are not merely a matter of supply and demand. They also involve the issue of resource allocation, which the community cannot shy away from.
141. Among all livelihood issues, the housing problem is the most challenging, formidable and complex. This is also the very issue that our people most earnestly look to the current-term Government to resolve with innovative solutions in a resolute manner. The current shortage in housing supply and surging property prices have resulted from both external and internal factors. The current-term Government is determined to rectify the situation with the greatest effort.
142. Whether it is about solving people’s home ownership problems or improving their living conditions, we must increase land supply. Over the years, the Government has proposed many strategies for increasing land supply, including reclamation outside the Victoria Harbour, reviewing land uses, increasing the development intensity of sites, developing rock cavern space, speeding up urban renewal, developing the Lantau Island, etc. The departments and organisations concerned are also undertaking studies on the utilisation of land on the periphery of country parks and the use of brownfield sites in the New Territories. Many proposals on land supply have also been put forward in the community. Hence, it appears that what is lacking is not ideas on how to increase land supply but a broad consensus on the pros and cons, trade-offs and priorities of different options. However, if we continued to argue repeatedly and stayed indecisive, coupled with the long lead time for land production, the tight land supply in Hong Kong would only get worse, making it even more difficult for our people to realise their aspirations for home ownership.
143. Established in September this year, the Task Force on Land Supply (Task Force) will lead the community to examine the pros and cons of different land supply options in a thorough and macro manner, with a view to achieving the broadest consensus in the community. With an important mission to achieve within a limited time frame, the Task Force plans to launch a public engagement exercise in the first half of 2018. We appeal to all sectors of the community to consider the difficult questions of land supply in an inclusive, open and rational manner. We also look to the Task Force to draw up a comprehensive package of proposals and a visionary land supply strategy.
144. My housing policy comprises the following four elements:
- housing is not a simple commodity. Our community has a rightful expectation towards the Government to provide adequate housing. This is also fundamental to social harmony and stability. Therefore, while maintaining respect of a free market economy, the Government has an indispensable role to play in this area;
- we will focus on home-ownership to enable our people to live happily in Hong Kong and call it their home. The Government will strive to build a housing ladder to rekindle the hopes of families in different income brackets to become home-owners;
- focusing on supply and based on the Long Term Housing Strategy, we will step up our effort in increasing the supply of housing units; and
- with insufficient land and when new supply is not yet available, we will strive to optimise the existing housing resources to meet the housing needs of families that have long been on the waiting list for public rental housing (PRH) and to help residents in poor living conditions.
Public Rental Housing and Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme
145. PRH is the first rung on the housing ladder. At present, there are about 756 000 households living in PRH, among which 19% are elderly persons and 16% are receiving the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). PRH is a long-established safety net for the grassroots and low-income families. The Government will strive to shorten the waiting time for PRH while stepping up our effort to help those relatively better-off PRH tenants to move up the housing ladder and vacate their units for allocation to the needy.
146. One approach is to substantially increase the supply of units under the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme (GSH), which specifically caters for PRH tenants. The Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) launched the GSH Pilot Scheme in 2016 and selected a PRH project in San Po Kong to provide 857 units for sale at affordable prices to enable Green Form Applicants to become home-owners. The project was nearly 18 times over-subscribed and all units were sold. PRH units in different districts are in turn vacated for allocation to those on the waiting list.
147. From the perspectives of housing policy, utilisation and allocation of the HKHA’s resources, and public aspirations for home ownership, GSH has its merits and no shortcomings. In fact, apart from assisting PRH tenants to become home-owners, PRH applicants who have passed the detailed eligibility vetting are also eligible for GSH and can thus more quickly fulfil their aspirations for home ownership. In view of this, I consider that our future public housing developments should include more GSH units instead of PRH units. I have requested the HKHA to complete the review on GSH as soon as possible, with a view to regularising the Scheme and offering more such flats for sale. After a preliminary technical assessment, the Housing Department (HD) considers that some 4 000 new PRH units in Fo Tan, Sha Tin can be converted into GSH units for sale in late 2018.
Resale of Home Ownership Scheme Flats and Subsidised Flats
148. Newly-constructed Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats in the housing ladder have all along been providing middle-income White Form applicants with the opportunities to own subsidised flats. The Government will continue to increase HOS supply. In the past, HOS flats with premium unpaid used to be available for sale on the secondary market only to Green Form applicants. The HKHA launched two rounds of the Interim Scheme of Extending the HOS Secondary Market to White Form Buyers (Interim Scheme) in 2013 and 2015 respectively on a pilot basis to allow eligible White Form applicants to purchase HOS flats with premium unpaid. This allows tenants of private premises more opportunities to become home-owners and at the same time facilitates the turnover of HOS flats.
149. Taking into account the Tenants Purchase Scheme (TPS) flats with premium unpaid, there are a total of 380 000 flats available on the secondary market for purchase by White Form buyers. I propose that the HKHA regularise the Interim Scheme.
“Starter Homes” Pilot Scheme for Hong Kong Residents
150. In my Election Manifesto, I proposed to introduce, on top of HOS, affordable “Starter Homes” for Hong Kong middle-class families, thus re-igniting the hopes of families with higher income to own a home in the face of hiking private property prices. This has generated a lot of attention in the community. I must reiterate that given the limited land supply for public housing, the Government will provide the proposed “Starter Homes” units only on the premise that the existing supply of public housing will not be affected. It now appears that the land supply for “Starter Homes” will have to come from sites already owned by private developers or to be bought from the Government.
151. Our initial thinking is to incorporate provisions into the land lease to require developers to pursue mixed developments, i.e., to design, build and offer for sale a specified number of “Starter Homes” units in addition to private housing units, and to sell these units to target buyers who meet the eligibility criteria set by the Government. These criteria include, among others, Hong Kong residents who have lived in Hong Kong for seven years or more and have never owned any property here. Their income will fall between the income limits for HOS applicants and about 30% higher than the HOS limits. Based on the prevailing HOS income limits, the upper income limit for the new scheme will be set at not exceeding $34,000 a month for singletons and $68,000 for households with two or more members. The prices and sizes of such units will be determined having regard to the affordability of eligible buyers. The alienation restrictions may be tighter than those for the HOS. We need to further consider how to deal with the subsidy to the buyers at the time of purchase, i.e., the issue of premium payment.
152. As “Starter Homes” is a new concept and a type of Government-subsidised flats for sale, the implementation details will intertwine with those of HOS and GSH, which will see a notable increase in supply. The Government will discuss with the HKHA and relevant sectors and listen carefully to the views of the community. Details of the scheme will be finalised for announcement in mid-2018, so as to dovetail with our proposal to launch a pilot scheme by the end of next year using a residential site at Anderson Road, Kwun Tong on the Government’s Land Sale Programme to provide about 1 000 residential units.
Community Initiatives on Social Housing
153. Even if our housing policy has broad community support, it takes time to identify land for increasing housing supply. The current-term Government will think out of the box to facilitate the implementation of various short-term community initiatives to increase the supply of transitional housing, with a view to alleviating the hardship faced by families on the PRH waiting list and the inadequately housed. Specific measures that may be considered include:
- optimising the use of idle government premises by providing rental housing units like those under the “Light Housing” project launched by Light Be in Sham Tseng;
- supporting the Community Housing Movement initiated by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service on a pilot basis, including encouraging the Urban Renewal Authority to participate by offering units in old buildings;
- facilitating the Hong Kong Housing Society in allowing the owners of its subsidised housing to rent out their flats with premium unpaid to needy families at below market rentals on a pilot basis;
- exploring the wholesale conversion of industrial buildings into transitional housing with waiver of land premium; and
- supporting non-profit-making organisations to explore the feasibility of constructing pre-fabricated modular housing on idle sites.
154. Admittedly, the above measures are unable to resolve the problem of insufficient supply we face today. Nevertheless, they will help us pool community efforts and resources and demonstrate our determination in tackling this priority livelihood issue together.
Improving Healthcare System and Services
155. To ensure the long-term sustainable development of our healthcare system and safeguard the health of our population, the Government will devote effort and allocate resources in a focused manner to improve our healthcare system and services. Measures include: actively promoting primary healthcare, enhancing public health regulation and promoting advancements in medical technology. The Government will also proactively support the development of Chinese medicine.
156. Together with Professor Rosie Young and other members of the Working Party on Primary Health Care, I set out a blueprint for the delivery of primary healthcare in the early 1990s.
157. As a matter of fact, a comprehensive and co-ordinated primary healthcare system will enhance overall public health, reduce hospital re-admission and rectify the situation where accident and emergency service is regarded as the first point of contact in seeking medical consultation. The Government is determined to step up efforts to promote individual and community involvement, enhance co-ordination among various medical and social sectors, and strengthen district-level primary healthcare services. Through these measures, we aim to encourage the public to take precautionary measures against diseases, enhance their capability in self-care and home care, and reduce the demand for hospitalisation.
158. We will set up a steering committee on primary healthcare development to comprehensively review the existing planning of primary healthcare services and draw up a development blueprint. The Committee, comprising healthcare professionals, academics, non-governmental organisations and community partners, is tasked to advise on the Government’s strategy on the development of primary healthcare services. Its work will include drawing up a model for district-based medical-social collaboration, using big data to identify the areas of medical care services requiring in-depth study, establishing a framework to implement measures on disease prevention in a more systematic manner (e.g. vaccination), disease screening and identification (especially chronic diseases such as stroke) and strengthening scientifically proven service provision and policy-led development work.
159. To further illustrate the effectiveness of medical-social collaboration, I have asked the Food and Health Bureau to set up a district health centre with a brand new operation mode in Kwai Tsing District within two years. The Government will provide funding for the centre according to the needs and characteristics of the district, with a view to enhancing public awareness of disease prevention and their capability in self-management of health through public-private partnership, providing support for the chronically ill as well as relieving the pressure on specialist and hospital services. The planned district health centre will make use of the local network to procure services from organisations and healthcare personnel serving the district so that the public can receive necessary care in the community. Kwai Tsing District Council made use of the $100 million provided by the Government in 2013 for district-based signature projects to launch a number of healthcare services in collaboration with local associations and non-profit-making organisations, and has built a solid foundation for the further extension of district-based primary healthcare services. With the experience gained from the pilot scheme, we will progressively set up district health centres in other districts.
Services of the Hospital Authority
160. The Government will deploy sufficient resources and enhance the supporting infrastructure to keep improving the healthcare services and facilities provided by the public sector. We will introduce a new arrangement by undertaking to increase the recurrent funding for the Hospital Authority (HA) progressively on a triennium basis, having regard to population growth rates and demographic changes. This will enable HA to address the staffing issue and service demands arising from a growing and ageing population in a more effective and sustained manner. On the supporting infrastructure, the Government and the HA will press ahead with the delivery of the 10-year Public Hospital Development Plan, for which $200 billion has been earmarked, and kick-start the next round of public hospital development planning in the coming five years. We will also discuss the future development needs of the CUHK Medical Centre with the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
161. On healthcare manpower, as pledged in my Election Manifesto, the HA will employ all qualified local medical graduates and provide them with relevant specialist training. Over 2 000 medical graduates will register as medical practitioners in the next five years. The HA will make every effort to retain existing and rehire retired healthcare professionals as appropriate. It will also proactively recruit qualified non-locally trained doctors through limited registration to provide clinical services in the public healthcare system.
162. The HA will set up more nurse clinics and seek to achieve better results by deploying multi-disciplinary teams. It will also increase the number of pharmacists to strengthen its clinical pharmacy service, study ways for better resource deployment to improve pharmacy services for elderly persons living in elderly homes, improve the manpower ratio for psychiatric services under the Case Management Programme, and explore how to manage stable psychiatric patients through public-private partnership.
163. In addition, the HA has formulated a strategic service framework on palliative care to set out specific guidelines on its service model and system infrastructure. Measures will be introduced to provide palliative care and end-of-life care services for an increased number of terminally ill patients within hospital settings and in the community. Such measures include home palliative care, increasing the frequency of home visits by nurses each year and training for the staff of residential care homes for the elderly. Meanwhile, the Government will consider amending the relevant legislation to give patients the choice of “dying in place”.
164. To enhance community health through cross-sector and multi-disciplinary collaboration, we will regularise the Dementia Community Support Scheme and extend it to all 41 district elderly community centres so that appropriate support services can be provided for elderly people with mild or moderate dementia and their carers through a medical-social collaboration model. Based on the evaluation results of the Student Mental Health Support Pilot Scheme, we will consider ways to provide appropriate support services for students with mental health needs.
Support for Uncommon Diseases
165. There have been appeals in recent years for more assistance to be provided for patients with uncommon diseases. Having regard to the evidence-based requirements and principles adopted by the HA when considering the listing of drugs in its Drug Formulary, the Government and the HA have agreed to implement the following improvement measures:
- extending the scope of the assistance programme to provide patients with subsidies for specific drug treatments according to individual patients’ special clinical needs. Eligible patients will be subsidised to participate in compassionate programmes of individual pharmaceutical companies; and
- the HA will expedite the review of the patient’s co-payment mechanism under the Community Care Fund Programme with a view to alleviating the financial burden on patients requiring long-term ultra-expensive drug treatment. The HA will complete the review in the first half of 2018 and propose improvement measures.
166. The Drug Management Committee under the HA and the relevant committees will more closely monitor the research developments and the accumulation of medical scientific evidence for new drugs so that financially-needy patients who require the use of ultra-expensive drugs, including patients with uncommon diseases, could receive early treatment.
Enhancing Public Health Regulation
167. To safeguard public health and maintain public trust in the healthcare system, the Government will proactively follow up on the legislative work of the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2017, which was introduced into the LegCo in June 2017. The Government will pursue the Accredited Registers Scheme for Healthcare Professions by completing the accreditation process for speech therapists, clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, audiologists and dietitians to pave the way for setting up a statutory registration regime for these professions. The Government will enhance the regulation of private healthcare facilities by establishing a new licensing system through legislation. The Private Healthcare Facilities Bill was introduced into the LegCo for scrutiny in June 2017.
Promoting Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme and Scientific Research
168. The Government plans to implement the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme in 2018 and will amend tax legislation to offer tax incentives for members of the public who procure such health insurance products. To harness the potential of new technology for better public health policies and clinical outcomes, we will set up a steering committee to lead the study on strategies for developing genomic medicine in Hong Kong.
Development of Chinese Medicine
169. With increasing public demand for Chinese medicine services in recent years, we have enhanced training for Chinese medicine practitioners. The Government will strive to facilitate the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong so that it will assume a more prominent role in promoting public health.
170. As a first step, the Government will set up a dedicated unit under the Food and Health Bureau to oversee Chinese medicine development. The dedicated unit will be responsible for maintaining close liaison with the Chinese medicine sector as well as co-ordinating and implementing the strategies and measures for promoting the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. The unit will examine options to further the development of Chinese medicine, including exploring ways to open up markets in the Mainland and neighbouring countries.
171. The Government is actively planning for a Chinese medicine hospital at a site in Tseung Kwan O. Local stakeholders and overseas experts are being consulted on the governance framework, business model, operating model, financial model and contract management model of the hospital. We expect to announce in the first half of 2018 the positioning of the Chinese medicine hospital, as well as, the development framework for major areas of the hospital.
172. To foster the professional development of Chinese medicine practitioners, the Government will organise various training courses, such as diploma courses on Chinese medicine specialty for registered Chinese medicine practitioners and basic Western pharmacy training for Chinese medicine pharmacists. The Government will also provide relevant Chinese medicine training courses for medical practitioners, nurses and healthcare professionals. To attract more talent to join the Chinese medicine sector, the Government will review the remuneration package and promotion opportunities for staff employed at all levels in the Chinese Medicine Centre for Training and Research in the 18 districts.
173. The Government will also include information on Chinese medicine in the scope of information sharing in the second-stage development of the Electronic Health Record Sharing System (eHRSS). We will continue to standardise medical terminologies of the Chinese medicine and develop the Chinese Medicine Information System On-ramp so as to facilitate the access to, and sharing of, patients’ information among Chinese medicine practitioners who choose to use the eHRSS in future.
174. To develop Hong Kong into an international hub for scientific research on Chinese medicines testing and quality control, the Government will speed up the establishment of the permanent Government Chinese Medicines Testing Institute, and empower the industry to strengthen quality control of their products through the development of internationally-recognised reference standards for Chinese medicines and related products and technology transfer.
175. To build a harmonious society, the Government should look after the underprivileged with compassion. Through efficient use of public resources and the efforts of the Commission on Poverty (CoP) and the Community Care Fund (CCF), the Government has achieved much progress in the areas of poverty alleviation, elderly care, and support for the disadvantaged over the past few years. We have rolled out various initiatives to provide appropriate support for the elderly, poverty-stricken working families, persons with disabilities, women and other people in need, including the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA) and the Low-income Working Family Allowance (LIFA). To enhance the existing retirement protection system, the Government announced the launch of two measures to improve the OALA in January this year. Following the relaxation of the asset limit of the OALA in May this year, the Government is making preparation for the implementation of a Higher Old Age Living Allowance (HOALA) in mid-2018 to provide a monthly allowance of $3,435 to eligible elderly persons. As the measure will take retrospective effect from 1 May this year, eligible beneficiaries of HOALA who are currently receiving OALA will receive an additional one-off sum of over $10,000 upon launching of the HOALA.
Low-income Working Family Allowance
176. The LIFA Scheme was introduced in May last year, with the aim to encourage self-reliance through employment for low-income families who are not receiving CSSA. It focuses on providing support for families with children and youngsters, with the objective of easing cross-generational poverty. As at the end of August this year, more than 35 000 families (about 130 000 persons), including 56 000 children or youngsters, are receiving LIFA. The total amount of allowance disbursed exceeded $900 million. We have noted the views expressed that the number of beneficiaries under LIFA is too small and that the eligibility criteria and the application procedures are too stringent.
177. Soon after taking office in July this year, the current-term Government embarked on a comprehensive policy review of the LIFA Scheme with the objective of bringing about early improvements so that more working households could benefit. Taking into account stakeholders’ views and various factors, the Government has decided to introduce the following improvement measures on the LIFA Scheme:
- extending the Scheme to cover singletons;
- introducing a tier with the income limit pitched at 70% of the median monthly domestic household income (MMDHI), and adopting the MMDHI of economically active households as the basis for calculating the income limit;
- for the working hour requirement, adding a new tier of 168 hours a month for non-single-parent households and a new tier of 54 hours a month for single-parent households. Households meeting the respective monthly working hour requirements are eligible for higher rates of allowance;
- allowing household members to aggregate working hours for assessing the allowance; and
- increasing all rates of allowance, and adding another tier of ¾ allowance rate between the current full-rate allowance and half-rate allowance.
In addition, the LIFA Scheme will be renamed as the “Working Family Allowance” Scheme. The Government expects that the above initiatives will be implemented on 1 April 2018.
178. According to the above improvement measures, a four-person household with two eligible children will receive a total of $3,200 a month under the Working Family Allowance Scheme if its monthly income is $19,000 or below and the total monthly working hours of all household members is not less than 192. This is about 25% more than the monthly allowance of $2,600 given out under the existing LIFA Scheme for a similar household.
179. The Working Family and Student Financial Assistance Agency (WFSFAA) is making preparation for implementing the above improvement measures, and will conduct a new round of publicity and support services in this connection. We agree that the design of the scheme should be as simple and easy to understand as possible, with appropriate safeguards against abuse.
180. Upon the implementation of the above improvement measures, we expect that the Working Family Allowance will basically cover the household-based applicants for the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS). As such, we will abolish the household-based WITS when implementing the improvement measures. Furthermore, the WFSFAA will upgrade its information technology (IT) systems. Upon project completion, the processing of WITS applications submitted by individuals, which is currently performed by the Labour Department will be taken up by WFSFAA. Processing of Working Family Allowance applications and WITS applications by the same office would bring about more efficient and convenient service provision to applicants.
181. Since its establishment in 2011, the CCF has launched 44 assistance programmes with a total commitment of around $8.4 billion benefiting over 1.5 million cases as at the end of July this year. We will invite the CCF to implement other new programmes and proactively regularise those programmes with proven results.
182. In the face of the challenges posed by an ageing population and the ever increasing demand for welfare services in our society, the Government has to be innovative in its thinking and approach in exploring solutions, such as reviewing existing schemes and considering the future mode of service delivery, in order to keep service delivery up-to-date with changing needs and ensure more effective use of limited resources.
183. The Elderly Commission has completed the formulation of the Elderly Services Programme Plan, which provides the basis for the future development and planning for elderly services. Some of the recommendations will be implemented in the near future. For example, the Pilot Scheme on Home Care and Support for Elderly Persons with Mild Impairment is expected to be launched in December this year while the Pilot Scheme on Support for Elderly Persons Discharged from Public Hospitals After Treatment is expected to be launched in early 2018. Moreover, the Government will regularly review the implementation progress of the Elderly Services Programme Plan and make adjustments as necessary.
184. The Government’s policy direction should accord priority to the provision of home care and community care, supplemented by residential care. The Government will provide additional resources to enhance community and home care services, with the aim to achieve zero waiting time. This will enable the elderly, especially those discharged from hospitals, to recover and enjoy life in a familiar environment. Since August this year, an additional 2 000 vouchers are available under the Second Phase of the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly to support ageing in place for elderly persons with moderate or severe impairment. The Government plans to further increase the number of vouchers under the Second Phase of the Pilot Scheme by 1 000 to a total of 6 000 in 2018-19.
185. Apart from increasing the service quotas, the Government will improve manpower planning and proactively enhance the quality of long-term care service. We will launch a four-year pilot scheme by setting up a district-based professional team, comprising social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, etc., to provide outreach services for residents of private residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) and residential care homes for persons with disabilities (RCHDs) to meet their social and rehabilitation needs. The Government will also introduce visiting medical practitioner services for residents of all RCHEs and RCHDs in Hong Kong to proactively respond to seasonal influenza and episodic illnesses, thus promoting their health conditions and reducing their reliability on the public medical system. In addition, we will include more recognised service providers in the Pilot Scheme on Residential Care Service Voucher for the Elderly to turn the principle of “money-following-the-user” into reality and enhance the service quality of private elderly homes. Through these measures, public and private organisations will play complementary roles in the provision of elderly care service.
186. To proactively promote gerontechnology for improving the quality of life of elderly persons and reduce the burden and pressure of carers and care staff, the Government will earmark $1 billion for setting up a fund to subsidise elderly service units to trial use and procure technology products. The initiative will also cover rehabilitation service units.
187. The Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan (HKRPP) sets out the strategic directions as well as short-, medium- and long-term measures to address various service needs of persons with disabilities, such as residential and day care, community support, employment, barrier-free facilities, transport, healthcare, education, sports and arts. The HKRPP was last reviewed and updated in 2007. To keep our rehabilitation services updated with changing needs, the Government has asked the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee (RAC) to commence work this month to formulate a new HKRPP. The HKRPP covers 10 types of disabilities. In view of the diverse needs of persons with different disabilities, RAC will conduct an extensive public engagement exercise early next year for stakeholders to hold systematic and thorough discussions on the rehabilitation service needs of persons with disabilities at different life stages and other related issues. RAC aims to submit a report on the new HKRPP in 2019.
188. We will continue to improve our rehabilitation services pending the completion of the report. Efforts would include increasing the number of places of pre-school children service, day service and residential service; and strengthening community support for persons with disabilities, in particular mental health support services. The Social Welfare Department will create new clinical psychologist posts at Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness to step up professional support for ex-mentally ill persons and persons suspected to suffer from mental health problems through the provision of individual or group psychological treatment, and to strengthen the capabilities of frontline professionals in these centres through clinical supervision.
189. Furthermore, the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses will adopt a flexible and innovative approach, whereby social welfare organisations will be encouraged and subsidised to make better use of their site to augment the provision of welfare facilities through expansion, redevelopment or new development, in particular elderly care, rehabilitation and child care facilities, which are in high demand, and other associated developments. A facility under the scheme has already come into operation, adding 100 places for rehabilitation services. Facilities under five more projects are expected to be completed by 2018-19, providing about 260 additional places of elderly services and 920 additional places of rehabilitation services in total. Based on a welfare service-oriented approach and the principle of enhancing people’s livelihood, we will flexibly process development proposals on optimising land use received from social welfare organisations, taking into account the preference of individual organisations.
Special Needs Trust
190. Some parents are worried about the care of their children with special needs, in particular those with intellectual disabilities, after they have passed away. They may have difficulties in finding relatives or friends who are trustworthy and capable of managing their wealth. On the other hand, most of these parents are unable to afford the high cost of setting up a private trust. The Government has decided to take the lead in setting up a “special needs trust”, with the Director of Social Welfare as the trustee, to provide reliable and affordable trust services for managing the assets of deceased parents. Regular disbursement will be made to the carers of their children, who may be individuals or organisations, in accordance with the parents’ wishes. This is to ensure that their assets will be used for meeting the long-term daily needs of their children. The Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) will continue to follow up with stakeholders on the details regarding the setting up of the trust.
Commission on Children
191. The Government plans to set up a Commission on Children in the middle of next year to amalgamate the efforts made by relevant bureaux/departments and child concern groups, and focus on addressing children’s issues as they grow. To this end, a preparatory committee chaired by the Chief Executive was established last month, with the Chief Secretary for Administration as the Vice-chairman. Members of the preparatory committee include the Policy Secretaries of relevant bureaux; experts in children affairs, such as members of the healthcare, education, social welfare and legal sectors; as well as academics and representatives of ethnic minorities and parents.
192. The preparatory committee held its first meeting early this month to discuss the roles and functions of the Commission on Children as well as its work priorities as suggested by the stakeholders. It will conduct a series of public engagement activities to canvass views from the community extensively including those of children, so as to ensure that the functions and the work of the new Commission on Children will have the support of the community.
193. In future, the Commission on Children may co-ordinate its work with the existing platforms. One of these platforms is the Child Development Fund. Operating on the basis of tripartite and cross-sector collaboration among the community and family, the business sector and the Government, the Fund aims at building an environment conducive to the growth of children from a disadvantaged background to support their longer-term development, thereby alleviating inter-generational poverty. We will inject $300 million into the Fund in 2018-19 for launching more projects which aim to boost the self-motivation and confidence of children from low-income families and help them plan for their future.
Food Assistance Service
194. The Short-term Food Assistance Service provides basic food supply for low-income earners who have difficulties in coping with their food expenditure temporarily for a period of generally up to eight weeks at a time. Since its introduction in 2009, the service has recorded over 250 000 visits. The total funding for this initiative is $600 million. The Government will allocate an additional $447 million for extending the service for three years to 2020-21. A comprehensive review of the initiative will be conducted in parallel.
Promoting the Employment of Persons with Disabilities
195. As an employer, the Government will take the lead in promoting the employment of persons with disabilities in order to foster an inclusive society. In addition to implementing measures to facilitate persons with disabilities to apply for government jobs and to ensure that they enjoy equal opportunities in employment, we will enhance the transparency of civil service recruitment by publishing the success rates of persons with disabilities as well as those for other candidates in the hope of encouraging the private sector to employ more persons with disabilities in the long run.
196. We will also further expand the Internship Scheme for Students with Disabilities next year. Our target is to double the number of internship places, increasing from an average of 50 a year in the past two years to 100, to allow more young persons with disabilities to gain hands-on work experience through placements in the Government, thereby strengthening their competitiveness before they enter the work force. The scheme also enables civil service colleagues to appreciate the talents and potential of persons with disabilities. To enhance the scheme, we will arrange for interns to take up more diversified jobs.
Providing Support for Ethnic Minorities
197. At present, there are hundreds of thousands of non-ethnic Chinese, including more than 80 000 South Asians, living in Hong Kong. Some of them have encountered difficulties in adaptation and social integration due to language barriers and cultural differences. Through enhancing relevant legislation as well as enhancing employment and other support services for the ethnic minorities (EM), the Government seeks to provide them with equal opportunities and facilitate their integration into our community.
198. On legislation, the Race Discrimination Ordinance, which is enforced by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), was fully implemented in 2009. The EOC reviews the operation of the Ordinance on a regular basis and puts forward legislative amendment proposals where necessary. Last year, the EOC submitted its proposals on the Discrimination Law Review to the Government. Among these proposals, nine recommendations were accorded priority of which seven related to Race Discrimination Ordinance. We aim to submit the legislative amendment proposals to the LegCo in the 2017-18 LegCo session.
199. To support non-Chinese speaking students in learning the Chinese language systematically and to assist their integration into the community, the EDB has implemented the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework (Learning Framework) in primary and secondary schools since the 2014/15 school year. The EDB has been observing the implementation of the Learning Framework in schools to collect first-hand information regarding curriculum planning, learning, teaching, and assessment for discussion with experts, academics and teachers so as to gauge its effectiveness. Views of EM parents and relevant organisations will also be taken into consideration.
200. With a view to increasing government job opportunities for EM, the Civil Service Bureau has started to co-ordinate a comprehensive review on the entry requirements relating to Chinese proficiency for all the grades of the civil service. The review is expected to be completed early next year. Besides, to further support and assist the EM to integrate into society and to cultivate positive values, the Hong Kong Police will launch a regular cross-disciplined forces training programme targeting EM youths to provide them with discipline, physical and team-building training.
Abolishing the “Offsetting” Arrangement under the Mandatory Provident Fund System
201. Abolition of the arrangement for “offsetting” severance payment (SP) and long service payment (LSP) with Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions is one of the priority tasks of current-term Government after assumption of office. At present, over $3 billion of accrued benefits from employers’ MPF contributions is used each year for offsetting SP or LSP, thus reducing the total amount of MPF benefits to which employees are entitled on retirement. The last-term Government proposed to progressively abolish the “offsetting” arrangement. Although the business sector and the labour sector did not arrive at a consensus in the end, both sides displayed sincerity in addressing the “offsetting” issue during the consultation process. Since July 2017, the current-term Government has been in active discussion with the business sector and the labour sector to explore viable options. By now, the community has by and large reached a broad consensus on whether “offsetting” should be abolished. The current-term Government has made clear its stance that the “offsetting” arrangement should be abolished and is willing to increase its financial commitment to mitigate the impact of the abolition on enterprises, in particular micro, small and medium enterprises. With reference to the views collected, we are studying how we can assist employers in saving up a dedicated reserve in advance to cover any potential expenses that may arise from SP or LSP payment to their employees in the future. We expect to put forward a proposal that takes into account the interests of both the labour sector and the business sector in the coming months.
Improving Employees’ Benefits
202. The LWB has completed the review on the statutory paternity leave and initially proposes to increase paternity leave from the current three days to five days. The Labour Department will report the outcome of the review to the Labour Advisory Board and the LegCo Panel on Manpower and consult their views within this year. In recent years, the labour sector and the women’s sectors have also proposed to improve maternity benefits of female employees, including extending the duration of the 10-week statutory maternity leave. On the premise of balancing the needs of working women on the one hand and the affordability of enterprises on the other, the Government will commence a study and work on the enhancement of maternity leave.
Occupational Safety and Health
203. The Government attaches importance to occupational safety and health (OSH) of employees. While the overall OSH situation in Hong Kong has seen continuous improvement, the industrial accident rate of the construction industry remains relatively high. The Government is particularly concerned about the fatal construction accidents which occurred during the year. In view of this, we will adopt a three-pronged approach to enhance the OSH of the construction industry by stepping up inspection and enforcement, publicity and promotion, as well as education and training. We are also aware that the relatively lenient penalties for non-compliance of OSH legislation have failed to reflect the seriousness of the offences. We therefore consider it necessary to impose heavier penalties against breaches of OSH legislation, as appropriate, in order to achieve a greater deterrent effect and further enhance OSH protection for workers. We are pressing ahead with the review on relevant legislation and are seeking advice from the DoJ. We aim to put forward the broad directions of the proposed legislative amendments within this year.
Relieving the Burden of Public Transport Expenses
204. Public transport expenses is an essential expenditure item in our daily living expenses. I mentioned in my Election Manifesto that we should explore the possibility of using the Government’s annual dividends receipt from the MTRC Limited to relieve the fare burden of long distance grassroot commuters. I would like to extend my appreciation to colleagues in the Transport and Housing Bureau who, after three months of diligent effort, propose to introduce a non-means tested Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme to provide fare subsidy, to an extent, for commuters if their monthly public transport expenses exceed a specified level. Our proposal is to set the line at $400 in the monthly expenditure on public transport, with the Government providing a subsidy amounting to 25% of the actual expenses in excess of this level, subject to a cap of $300 a month. We anticipate that over 2 million commuters will benefit from the scheme, which will cover the fares of MTR, franchised buses, green minibuses, ferries and trams. The scheme will be simple and easy to understand, and will not require any application. The Government aims to launch the scheme within one year after obtaining funding approval from the LegCo Finance Committee.
205. Based on our new thinking on governance focused on bringing benefits and convenience to the public, we will make available resources for building new public markets to offer wider choices of fresh provisions in Tung Chung, Tin Shui Wai and Hung Shui Kiu. In this connection, we will also consider adopting new approaches to the design, construction and operation of these markets. The Government will conduct a comprehensive review of existing public markets and formulate specific improvement measures for both the facilities and their management in a systematic manner. As far as the hardware is concerned, the Government will allocate resources to improve the environment of existing public markets. One of the measures is to expedite the installation of air-conditioners.
206. In the coming five years, we will deploy resources to improve environmental cleanliness, and will continue to step up effort in law enforcement and prosecution. To this end, we will set up additional dedicated enforcement teams and extend the pilot scheme on the installation of Internet Protocol cameras at hygiene blackspots to cover all the 18 districts.
Policy on Burial
207. The Government is determined to take forward the burial policy by adopting a three-pronged approach to cater for the long-term need of the public. On the regulation of private columbaria, the Private Columbaria Ordinance has come into operation since 30 June 2017. We endeavour to implement and enhance the regulatory regime in order to resolve this long-standing issue. As regards public niche supply, the Government will continue to press ahead with the development projects under the district-based scheme in order to secure the supply for the coming 15 years. We will also continue our effort in promoting green burial.
208. The Government will further enhance the governance of our food safety regime, and strike a balance between safeguarding food safety and ensuring the stability of food supply. We will make timely effort to update the local food safety standards, including tightening the regulation of metallic contaminants and other harmful substances in food. To enhance its capability in conducting risk-based surveillance and taking contingency measures in food incidents, the Centre for Food Safety will improve its information technology systems to enhance its capability in risk analysis and food traceability, and to interface with the “Trade Single Window”.
209. We must safeguard the stable supply of powdered formulae and ensure that local demand is not adversely affected by parallel trading activities. Mindful of the concerns of different stakeholders in the community over the export control of powdered formulae, we will carry out a review on this issue, and explore long-term measures to safeguard the stability of local supply of powdered formulae.