VI. Improving People’s Livelihood
174. To promote social harmony and achieve sustainable development, our economic development has to be inclusive and beneficial to different sectors of society. When attending different international conferences in the past year, I emphasised time and again that the practice of capitalism and market economy in Hong Kong was not in conflict with the Government’s social policies to actively improve people’s livelihood. I deployed two figures to exemplify the determination of the HKSAR Government to improve people’s livelihood: about 60% of the recurrent government expenditure was allocated to education, healthcare and welfare, and an increase of 86% in social welfare expenditure over the past six years. However, I must also point out that, with a supply of public resources which are not unlimited, implementing policy initiatives on improving people’s livelihood is not just a matter of demand and supply, but also an issue of allocation of resources that cannot be evaded by our society. To make better use of the resources, we should promote cross-sector and cross-profession collaboration as well as public-private partnership in adherence to the principles of pro-child, pro-family, pro-work and pro-user. Besides, 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 build a harmonious society.
175. Healthcare services are livelihood issues of greatest public concern just after housing. Hong Kong enjoys a safe and sound public healthcare environment with accessible and quality healthcare services. Life expectancy for male and female populations in Hong Kong ranks first globally9 and our healthcare services are among the most efficient in the world10. We will continue to improve our healthcare system and services, including strengthening primary healthcare services and formally recognising Chinese medicine as part of Hong Kong’s healthcare development. We will also plan ahead for medical hardware facilities and manpower requirements of healthcare professionals.
176. To effectively change the current focus of our healthcare services on treatment and to alleviate the pressure on public hospitals, we are committed to enhancing district-based primary healthcare services. The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) is now setting up the first DHC in Kwai Tsing District as proposed in my Policy Address last year. Operating through district-based medical-social collaboration and public-private partnership, the DHC will provide services in health promotion, health assessment, chronic disease management, community rehabilitation, etc.
177. We envisage that the DHC will be a service hub with a Core Centre serving as the headquarters and complemented by five Satellite Centres in sub-districts at convenient locations. Enabled by information technology infrastructure, the DHC will form a service network manned by medical and healthcare practitioners in the district. The DHC will strive to better co-ordinate with other district-based primary healthcare services and facilities, making it more convenient to meet individual healthcare needs of the community. We have selected the site for the Core Centre of the Kwai Tsing DHC and invited tenders for the operating right, with a view to commissioning the DHC around the third quarter of 2019.
178. The Government will allocate substantial resources to subsidise the operation of the DHC at around $100 million a year. Members of the public will have to bear part of the costs of the services so as to encourage them to manage their own health. We will proactively take forward the setting up of DHCs in other districts, with the Kwai Tsing DHC as the blueprint. To ensure service stability, we will reserve premises for DHCs within Government properties in various districts, and have already identified suitable locations in Kwun Tong and the Eastern District. We will, however, first rent suitable premises for DHCs in various districts to enable early service delivery.
Prevention and Control of Diseases
179. Upon announcement of the Towards 2025: Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Control Non-communicable Diseases in Hong Kong by the Department of Health in May this year, we have been actively implementing measures to meet various indicators. These measures include promotion of healthy diets and physical activities, reduction in alcohol and tobacco-related harms, and strengthening of the healthcare system.
180. To safeguard the health of the public, the Government has made strenuous efforts in tobacco control. Different measures have been introduced, including the designation and continuous expansion of no-smoking areas, and periodic increases in tobacco duty. With the concerted efforts by the Government and other stakeholders over the years, smoking prevalence among persons aged 15 and above has significantly dropped from over 20% in the 1980s to 10% at present. The Government has also laid down the target of further reducing smoking prevalence to 7.8% by 2025.
181. In recent years, the emergence of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other new smoking products has posed new health risk and challenges. Often packaged as less harmful substitutes with promotion tactics targeted at youngsters and non-smokers, these products open a gateway to the eventual consumption of conventional cigarettes. The fact is: all these new smoking products are harmful to health and produce second-hand smoke. There is also a lack of sufficient evidence to prove that these products can help quit smoking. The public may underestimate the harmful effects of these products and eventually endorse the smoking image and relevant behaviours once again.
182. Since the Government proposed to legislate for the regulation of e-cigarettes and other new smoking products in the middle of this year, the medical professions, education sector, parents and many members of the public have expressed concerns about the adoption of a regulatory approach for the issue. They are worried that allowing the sale of e-cigarettes and other new smoking products with restrictions in the market will not be adequate to protect public health, and will bring about very negative impact on children and adolescents in particular. After weighing the pros and cons of a regulatory approach as opposed to a full ban, I have decided that, with the protection of public health as the prime consideration, the Government will submit proposed legislative amendments in this legislative session to ban the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes and other new smoking products.
183. The Cancer Co-ordinating Committee chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health is drawing reference from World Health Organisation’s recommendations, international practices and actual local situations with a view to mapping out in 2019 strategies related to cancer prevention and care services for the period between 2020 and 2025, thereby reducing the burden on society imposed by cancer. At present, government-subsidised cancer screening already covers colorectal cancer and cervical cancer.
184. According to the recommendations of the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases and the Scientific Committee on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in mid-2018, the Government will, starting from the 2019/20 school year, introduce free HPV vaccination to school girls of particular age groups as a public health strategy for prevention of cervical cancer.
185. As far as breast cancer is concerned, a government-commissioned study to identify risk factors associated with breast cancer for local women is expected to be completed in the latter half of 2019. The Government will closely monitor the scientific evidence and outcome of the study to review what type of screening is to be adopted for women of different risk profiles.
186. Genomic medicine is an important sphere in contemporary medicine and scientific research, with huge potential in screening, diagnosis and precision medicine. I announced in the Policy Address last year the establishment of a steering committee to lead the study on strategies for developing genomic medicine in Hong Kong. The steering committee has put forth a preliminary recommendation to conduct a large-scale genome sequencing project in Hong Kong in order to enhance the clinical application of genomic medicine. The project also aims to promote innovative scientific research on genomic medicine to cater for future medical development in Hong Kong through the establishment of genome data of local population, testing infrastructure and talent pool. I have accepted this recommendation of the steering committee and will provide government funding for this purpose. FHB will later set up an expert group to finalise the relevant details.
187. The Government has earmarked an annual funding of $50 million to embark on an on-going mental health promotion and public education initiative. The first phase of the new initiative aims to enhance public understanding of mental health, thereby reducing stigmatisation towards persons with mental health needs, with a view to building a mental-health friendly society in the long run. The Government will commission universities to conduct territory-wide mental health prevalence surveys covering children, adolescents and the elderly to tie in with the initiative.
188. To enhance seasonal influenza vaccination uptake rate, the Department of Health has implemented a pilot programme in the 2018/19 school year to roll out free outreach seasonal influenza vaccination services for primary students at schools. The department has also increased the subsidy under the Vaccination Subsidy Scheme and expanded its eligible groups to cover people aged between 50 and 64, etc.
Positioning and Development of Chinese Medicine
189. Chinese medicine is widely used among Hong Kong people. Over the years, the Chinese medicine sector has urged that a holistic Chinese medicine policy be formulated. I have pledged in my Policy Address last year that the Government would strive to promote the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong so that it would assume a more prominent role in promoting public health. Over the past year, the Chinese Medicine Hospital Project Office and the Chinese Medicine Unit, a dedicated unit responsible for overseeing the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong, have been established in FHB. Both teams have worked closely with the Chinese medicine sector, and the Executive Council has confirmed the positioning of Chinese medicine in the development of medical services in Hong Kong.
190. Through government subsidising defined Chinese medicine services, Chinese medicine will be incorporated into the healthcare system in Hong Kong. These services include:
- a combination of government-subsidised in-patient and out-patient services offered by the future Chinese medicine hospital;
- government-subsidised out-patient services offered by the 18 Chinese medicine Centres for Training and Research at the district level; and
- government-subsidised in-patient services providing Integrated Chinese-Western Medicine treatment in defined public hospitals, in consultation with the HA.
191. Furthermore, a dedicated fund with $500 million has been established for promoting Chinese medicine development. Administered by the Chinese Medicine Unit under FHB, the fund would provide support in areas such as applied research, Chinese medicine specialisation, knowledge exchange and cross-market co-operation, and assist local Chinese medicine traders with the production and registration of proprietary Chinese medicine. The dedicated fund will commence operation in the first half of 2019.
192. Following confirmation of the positioning of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong’s medical services, we will introduce Chinese medicine as part of the civil service medical benefits. The CSB will explore which form to take in providing Chinese medicine services for civil service eligible persons, having regard to the existing mode of operation of different components of the civil service medical benefits and resources consideration.
Enhancing Healthcare Services
193. Many patients worry about the financial burden posed by drug expenses. The HA has commissioned a consultancy study to comprehensively review the existing means test of the Samaritan Fund and Community Care Fund Medical Assistance Programmes. Based on the findings of the review, we suggest modifying the calculation method of the annual disposable financial resources of patients by lowering the contribution of assets that has to be calculated so as to lower the patients’ out-of-pocket spending. We will also revise the relevant factors for the purposes of financial assessment, so as to relieve the patient families’ financial burdens. The implementation of the review recommendations can benefit grassroots and middle-class patients alike.
194. To benefit more elderly persons with financial difficulties, the Government will expand the target beneficiaries of the Community Care Fund Elderly Dental Assistance Programme in early 2019 to cover all elderly persons receiving Old Age Living Allowance by lowering the age limit from 70 or above to 65 or above, and refine the service scope of the programme.
195. To allow terminally-ill patients more options of their own treatment and care arrangements, the Government will consult the public in 2019 on arrangements of advance directives and the relevant end-of-life care.
196. We fully understand the worries and anxieties of parents who may encounter difficulties in arranging proper burial or cremation of their abortuses. In this connection, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the HA have already implemented various administrative measures to facilitate the handling of abortuses. The Government is examining proposals to further improve such arrangements in a holistic manner, including provision of facilities.
Sustainable Development of Healthcare System
197. To meet the increasing demand for healthcare services arising from an ageing population, we need to plan ahead the necessary healthcare infrastructure and have set aside $300 billion as announced in the 2018-19 Budget for such purposes. In parallel with the implementation of projects under the first 10-year hospital development plan, we have invited the HA to commence planning for the second 10-year hospital development plan. A total of 19 projects involving about $270 billion will be covered. Upon completion of the whole plan, there will be over 9 000 additional beds and other additional hospital facilities that will largely meet the projected service demand up to 2036. The Department of Health will also update or improve its healthcare facilities by stages.
198. In preparation for the foreseeable tight manpower situation of the healthcare profession and considering the long training cycle, the Government will further increase the number of healthcare training places. In the 2019/20 to 2021/22 UGC triennium, the number of healthcare-related publicly-funded first-degree intake places will increase by over 150 from about 1 780 to about 1 930 (including 60 medical, 60 nursing, 8 dental, 20 physiotherapy and 5 optometry places).
199. To expand the capacity for relevant professional healthcare training, the Government will earmark about $20 billion out of the provision of $300 billion for short, medium and long-term works projects to upgrade and increase the teaching facilities of the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Moreover, while the Government has set aside resources for renovating the Prince Philip Dental Hospital in the short term, reprovisioning options will also be considered for the longer-term development of this dental teaching hospital.
200. We will fully implement and promote the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme as well as provide tax deduction to encourage the public to purchase Certified Plans, so that they may choose to use private healthcare services when needed, thereby alleviating the long-term pressure on the public healthcare system.
Enhancing Public Health Regulation
201. Upon the passage of the Private Healthcare Facilities Bill, the Department of Health will set up a full-fledged Office for Regulation of Private Healthcare Facilities to undertake the relevant statutory enforcement work, with a view to ensuring patient safety and protecting consumer rights. Regarding the regulatory framework for medical devices, we are working on the Medical Devices Bill and aim to introduce the Bill into the LegCo in the current legislative session. The development of Advanced Therapy Products (ATPs) is one of the fastest moving areas in the medical field at present. The Government will introduce legislation to regulate ATPs with an aim to safeguarding public health.
202. We are also following up on the Report of the Strategic Review on Healthcare Manpower Planning and Professional Development which was published in 2017. We have invited the regulatory bodies to submit proposals to the Government on regulation and development of healthcare professions, including how to take forward mandatory continuing professional education and development, review of the Dentists Registration Ordinance, implementation of a voluntary registration scheme for the development of nursing specialties to pave the way for setting up a relevant statutory registration system, and review of the regulation and development of allied health professions. The Government will also complete and evaluate the Pilot Accredited Registers Scheme for Healthcare Professions, and study how to formulate a statutory registration regime for relevant accredited professions.
Employees’ Benefits and Support
203. Good labour relations and sharing the fruits of economic growth with all walks of life are the essential elements of an inclusive society. With regard to labour policies, I consider that employers and employees alike should attempt reverse thinking. Initiatives to support the business sector can in fact help employers be good bosses, and policies to protect and assist workers can help secure a quality and stable workforce for employers.
204. The current 2.8% unemployment rate in Hong Kong is at its lowest level in more than 20 years and we have basically achieved full employment. Employers of many sectors have expressed difficulties in staff recruitment. From high-tech talent to grassroots employees, manpower supply is generally on the tight side. Aside from protecting and improving basic labour welfare and treatment, we also have to maintain the competitiveness of Hong Kong enterprises and provide sufficient manpower for them. We need to work on various fronts to unleash the potential of the local labour force, especially that of women and elder persons, and to import as appropriate the talent and labour in need. As for the improvement of labour welfare, retirement protection tops the labour policy agenda of the current-term Government.
Abolishing the “Offsetting” Arrangement under the Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme
205. The current retirement protection system in Hong Kong draws reference from the multi-pillar model advocated by the World Bank, and one of the pillars is the employment-based MPF Scheme with contributions by both employers and employees. From the time I took up the position of the Chief Secretary for Administration to July last year when I assumed office as the Chief Executive, I repeatedly made clear my unwavering stance that, for the purpose of enhancing employees’ retirement protection, the arrangement for “offsetting” severance payment (SP) and long service payment (LSP) with MPF benefits will be abolished.
206. “Listen to both the employees and employers, especially those from small and medium enterprises, and strive to reach a consensus” has been my attitude towards handling the “offsetting” issue as mentioned in my Election Manifesto. Since July last year, we have been in active discussion with both the business sector and the labour sector to explore viable options. We understand the labour sector’s worry about the reduction of the rate of calculating SP and LSP under the last term Government’s proposal. We also note the business sector’s concern about the financial pressure on some employers, in particular the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), who would have to pay SP or LSP after the abolition of the “offsetting” arrangement. In this regard, I stated clearly in the Policy Address last year that the Government was willing to increase its financial commitment to mitigate the impact of the abolition on enterprises, in particular MSMEs.
207. In March this year, we put forth a preliminary idea on abolishing the “offsetting” arrangement. It provides for a two-tier subsidy scheme of 12 years to enterprises, with the Government’s total financial commitment increased from the last term Government’s $7.9 billion to $17.2 billion. We also propose to set up designated savings accounts to assist employers in saving up early for meeting their potential SP or LSP expenses in future, so as to reduce the financial pressure on employers in making the relevant payments. To address the labour sector’s concern, we have decided to restore the rate of calculating SP and LSP to two-thirds of the monthly wages of employees instead of half of the employees’ monthly wages as proposed by the last term Government.
208. In the past few months, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare (SLW) has proactively met with key stakeholders to listen to their views on the preliminary idea. Having carefully considered the views of various parties, we have decided to further enhance the Government’s support for employers. We will extend the period of the second-tier subsidy to 25 years. Together with the 12-year first-tier subsidy, the financial commitment of the entire government subsidy scheme will be significantly increased to $29.3 billion. We believe that the arrangement of significantly extending the period and increasing the commitment will go a long way in helping MSMEs make preparations relating to possible SP or LSP payable by them. On the worry expressed by labour groups that in certain extreme circumstances individual employees might receive a smaller amount of aggregate benefits (SP or LSP entitlement together with the accrued benefits of the employers’ mandatory contributions to their MPF accounts) than what they would otherwise receive under the current “offsetting” regime, the Government will undertake to make up for any such shortfall.
209. The issue of MPF “offsetting” has been a bone of contention for a long time. After years of active discussion, the community has reached a broad consensus on abolishing the “offsetting” arrangement. I consider now the time to make a decision in order to settle the issue that has beleaguered wage earners for years and to accord better retirement protection to employees. Our target is to secure the passage of the enabling legislation by the LegCo within the current term of the Government (i.e. by 2022), and implement the abolition of “offsetting” arrangement two years after the passage of the legislative amendments.
Protection for Employees Injured at Work
210. Although the overall occupational safety and health condition of our workforce has been improving, there are still a considerable number of work injury cases every year. In order to strengthen the protection of the rights and benefits of employees injured at work and suffered from occupational diseases, the Government is actively looking into new measures, including considering provision of timely and well co-ordinated treatment and rehabilitation services for injured workers in need through private medical services. Our aim is to enhance effectiveness of these services and speed up workers’ recovery, so as to facilitate their early return to work. In addition, the Government will strengthen the processing of employees’ compensation claims with enhanced Claims Support Services to facilitate settlement of work injury disputes through dedicated follow-up, early intervention, proactive contact and arrangement of face-to-face meetings; and enhance the follow-up procedures for sick leave relating to work injury to speed up case processing, through early screening of those cases that do not require assessment by the Employees’ Compensation Assessment Board so that the employees concerned will not be required to attend the follow-up procedures in person and the Labour Department will issue the Certificate of Compensation Assessment direct for settling the claims. We will also strengthen investigation and prosecution to combat violation of the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance.
Occupational Safety and Health
211. The Government takes employees’ occupational safety and health seriously. Targeting at the relatively higher risks faced by employees of certain industries or engaging in certain work procedures, the Labour Department will strengthen its efforts on inspection and enforcement, publicity and promotion, as well as education and training. The department is also actively reviewing the penalties of relevant legislation to amplify their deterrent effect.
212. We will enhance the employment support programme under the CSSA Scheme to provide its participants with more focused employment and retraining services through the joint efforts of departments and agencies.
213. We will strengthen the Labour Department’s work in processing and disseminating job vacancy information so as to more effectively assist job seekers in finding jobs and employers in recruiting workers.
Importation of Labour
214. Individual sectors, particularly the elderly care service sector, have long been encountering human resources shortage and recruitment difficulties. However, with the extremely tight overall labour force and rapidly ageing population, the elderly care service sector experiences particularly acute shortage of manpower supply. In the Policy Address last year, I mentioned that on the premise that local workers’ priority for employment would be safeguarded, consideration might be given to allowing greater flexibility for subsidised elderly service and rehabilitation service units to import carers. The Government has, through a number of measures, been helping the subsidised elderly care service sector for employing additional manpower. However, given the increasing need for additional subsidised elderly care services, we will review the practical circumstances and determine when and how to implement the importation of carers.
215. On the premise of according employment priority to local workers, employers may apply for importation of workers at technician level or below under the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS) to alleviate manpower shortage. The Labour Department plans to increase its manpower for processing the relevant applications and stepping up inspection to ensure employers’ compliance with the terms of employment contracts and the protection afforded by labour laws and the SLS to imported workers.
Foreign Domestic Helpers
216. Currently, there are about 380 000 foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong. They assist local families with their household chores and take care of children and elderly, thereby unleashing the potential of the local labour force and making significant contribution to Hong Kong’s development. To maintain Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a place of work and meet local families’ increasing demand for FDHs, the Government will continue to enhance its support for FDHs and protection of their labour rights, and step up enforcement and prosecution against unscrupulous employment agencies.
Government Outsourcing System
217. The employees of government service contractors are also an important source of human resources in the provision of government services. I met with over 100 workers earlier at Government House to listen to their and contractors’ views. The inter-departmental working group set up by the SLW has completed a review of the employment terms and conditions as well as labour benefits of non-skilled employees engaged by government service contractors. The major recommendations include increasing the technical weighting in the marking schemes for tender evaluation and the weighting of wage level as a criterion for technical assessment, enhancing the employment benefits (including providing a contractual gratuity) for the non-skilled employees, and encouraging procuring departments to adopt service contracts with a minimum term of three years where operational situations permit. The above measures will be introduced to the relevant government service contracts tendered on or after 1 April 2019.
Navigation Scheme for Young Persons in Care Services
218. The Government will continue with the operation of the Navigation Scheme for Young Persons in Care Services, providing a total of 1 200 training places in the coming years under an enhanced scheme, with a view to better equipping the trainees and helping the social welfare care sector attract young people and retain talent.
Paternity Leave and Maternity Leave
219. We will secure support from the LegCo for early passage of the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2018 to implement the proposal to increase the statutory paternity leave from the existing three days to five days.
220. The Government has completed the review of the statutory maternity leave (ML). To allow mothers more time to spend with and take care of their newborn babies, we propose to extend the statutory ML from the current 10 weeks to 14 weeks. If an employee is entitled to ML pay under the Employment Ordinance, the employer shall, together with the current 10 weeks’ statutory ML pay, also provide her with ML pay for the additional four weeks’ statutory ML, the rate of which shall be maintained at four-fifths of the employee’s average daily wages and be subject to a cap of $36,822 per employee (this cap may be adjusted from time to time). The cap is equivalent to four-fifths of the wages of an employee with a monthly wage of $50,000 in four weeks. Employees with a monthly wage of $50,000 or below account for about 95% of employees in Hong Kong. Employers may apply to the Government for reimbursement of the additional four weeks’ statutory ML pay. The Labour Department will report the outcome of the review to the Labour Advisory Board and seek its views on the proposal within this year.
221. To set an example of a good employer, the Government has decided to extend the ML for all female employees of the Government to 14 weeks with immediate effect. Officers whose actual or expected date of confinement falls on or after today will all benefit from this initiative.
222. Being the former Director of Social Welfare responsible for safeguarding the rights of children and a mother of two, I am deeply concerned about the healthy growth of children, both physical and psychological. The current-term Government set up the Commission on Children in June this year with cross-bureau and departmental representation, and has engaged child concern groups to address in a focused manner the issues that children face while growing up. The commission has already commenced work. The Government will allocate additional resources to the commission from 2019-20 onwards for implementing various specific measures to safeguard the rights and well-being of children.
223. At the same time, the Government will strengthen the services focusing on children’s development through the following means:
- enhancing child care services to integrate care and development in phases from 2019-20 onwards. Measures will include: formulating planning ratio for the provision of child care centre places; improving service quality by enhancing the existing manning ratios for qualified child care workers serving in child care centres; increasing the level of subsidy for child care centre service so as to alleviate parents’ financial burden in paying service fees; enhancing the service quality of the Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project by strengthening the training for home-based child carers and raising their incentive payments; and re-engineering in phases the existing Mutual Help Child Care Centres so as to further meet child care needs in the community;
- launching a three-year pilot scheme in the 2018/19 school year to provide social work services in phases for about 150 000 pre-school children and their families in more than 700 subsidised/aided child care centres, kindergartens and kindergarten-cum-child care centres in Hong Kong for early identification of and provision of assistance to pre-school children and their families with welfare needs;
- exploring the provision of after-school care services for children aged 3 to 6 in suitable welfare facilities settings; and
- strengthening support for divorced/separated families to the interest of children by, among others, setting up five specialised co-parenting support centres from 2019-20 onwards to co-ordinate and arrange children contact, and strengthening support for children and their divorced/separated parents with parenting needs.
On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services Scheme
224. Recognising the importance of early intervention for pre-school children with special needs, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) launched the Pilot Scheme on On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services (OPRS) from November 2015 onwards to provide on-site rehabilitation services for children with special needs in kindergartens or kindergarten-cum-child care centres through inter-disciplinary service teams co-ordinated by NGOs, with a view to enabling pre-school children with special needs to receive necessary training early in their prime learning period. Given the resounding results of the pilot scheme and full recognition from parents and kindergarten teachers, the OPRS has been regularised since this month with the number of service places increased from about 3 000 to 5 000, which will be further increased to 7 000 in October 2019. In parallel, the Government will enhance the professional and support services provided under the OPRS, including strengthening the establishment of speech therapists and social workers and setting up mobile training centres.
225. Parents benefitting from the OPRS services have expressed to me the worry that their children may have problems with quick adaptation after proceeding to Primary One. In this connection, I have requested the SLW to consult the stakeholders concerned, including the rehabilitation service organisations, and explore ways to provide appropriate bridging and support services for children with special needs when they proceed to Primary One.
226. Meanwhile, in the 2018/19 school year, the Education Bureau and the SWD have enhanced the mechanism for information transfer from operators of pre-school rehabilitation services to primary schools. This allows primary schools to have knowledge of the special needs of the children concerned upon their admission, as well as their performance and progress made after receiving rehabilitation training in kindergartens to ensure delivery of continuous care.
227. To further strengthen support for pre-school children with special needs and their parents, the Government will enhance social work services of special child care centres and residential special child care centres, and strengthen care and nursing support for children with severe disabilities receiving residential care services. Besides, the Government will also provide direct psychological treatment on top of consultation service for persons with special needs (especially children) and their parents to deal with their familial and psychological problems.
228. In addition, the Government will implement through the Lotteries Fund a pilot project to provide support for children in kindergartens or kindergarten-cum-child care centres who show signs of special needs and are waiting for assessment.
Community Support for Families of Persons with Disabilities
229. The Government has entrusted the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee to formulate a new Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan to set out the strategic directions and measures to address the service needs of persons with disabilities at different stages of life. Considering that many persons with disabilities have expressed their wishes to continue living at home so as to postpone their admission to residential care homes, the Government will strengthen a range of community support services for their families before the completion of the new plan. This will enable persons with disabilities to choose to continue to live with their families in the community and at the same time ease the stress of their family members.
230. In this connection, the Government will set up five additional District Support Centres for Persons with Disabilities and strengthen rehabilitation training and service in order to enhance their service capacity and quality. The Government will also allocate new resources to provide home-based care services for about an additional 1 800 persons with disabilities living in the community and to enhance transport support for the services. To enable carers to continue taking care of elderly persons with disabilities at home with the assistance of professionals, the Government will provide speech therapy services for ageing service users and those with severe disabilities to assist them in dealing with swallowing problems.
231. In view of the special service needs of persons with autism, the Government will increase the number of Support Centres for Persons with Autism from three to five.
232. The Government has always been concerned about the needs of residents of new public rental housing estates. We will, through the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund, fund community network building projects, with the aim to regularise the support service for the new estate community to facilitate the integration of new residents and families into the community as soon as possible.
233. It is an indisputable fact that Hong Kong is facing the issue of wealth disparity. Hence, the Government has due responsibility to implement appropriate labour and welfare policies, as well as specific measures to alleviate poverty. Comparing with 2012-13, the recurrent expenditure on social welfare in 2018-19 has increased by 86%. The current-term Government attaches great importance to poverty alleviation work, and will continue to assist low-income persons and the disadvantaged. I already announced in the Policy Address last year major improvements to Low-income Working Family Allowance (LIFA).
Working Family Allowance
234. The Government introduced the Working Family Allowance (WFA) Scheme on 1 April 2018 to implement the various improvement measures on LIFA Scheme as announced in the Policy Address last year. These measures include extending the LIFA Scheme to cover singletons, allowing household members to aggregate working hours for assessing the allowance, relaxing income limits and increasing all rates of allowance. There were about 45 000 applications during the six months since the launch of the WFA Scheme. Of them, over 16 000 were applications submitted by families which had not applied for LIFA before. We will continue to promote the WFA Scheme and assist eligible households to apply for the allowance through a multi-pronged approach.
Community Care and Support Services for the Elderly
235. The Government will continue to adopt the approach of according priority to the provision of home care and community care, which are supplemented by residential care, in providing support for frail elderly persons. To meet the different needs of elderly persons living in the community and to offer them choices, the Government will, within 2019, provide an additional 2 000 service quota under the Enhanced Home and Community Care Services. The Government will also implement a new scheme to set up day care units for the elderly at qualified private and self-financing Residential Care Homes for the Elderly (RCHEs) to boost the supply of day care services. Separately, since October this year, an additional 1 000 vouchers have been provided 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 provide 1 000 vouchers under the second phase of the pilot scheme to bring the total to 7 000 in 2019-20.
236. To meet the demand for beds in public hospitals during the seasonal peak of influenza, and to increase the number of residential respite places for the elderly, the SWD introduced a special measure from February to September this year to purchase about 250 additional residential places from private RCHEs participating in the Enhanced Bought Place Scheme (EBPS) to provide residential respite service for elderly persons. In view of the positive response to this special measure, the Government plans to regularise the measure in 2019-20 to provide designated residential respite places in private RCHEs participating in the EBPS, so as to relieve the stress of carers.
237. We will reinstate, by the end of this year, the population-based planning ratios in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines in respect of subsidised residential care services and community care services, district elderly community centres and neighbourhood elderly centres.
Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses
238. The Government will implement a new phase of the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses to provide participating NGOs with appropriate assistance to facilitate their planning or development process. Through applications by these NGOs for expansion, redevelopment or new development on the sites they own, the scheme aims at providing diversified subvented and self-financing facilities, in particular additional places of elderly, rehabilitation and child welfare services.
239. The Government strives to increase subsidised residential care places for the elderly under a multi-pronged approach. Apart from continuing to build new contract homes and implementing measures such as the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses and Pilot Scheme on Residential Care Service Voucher for the Elderly, the Government will purchase an additional 5 000 EA1 places under the EBPS in the next five years to increase the supply of subsidised residential care places for the elderly and enhance the overall service quality of private RCHEs.
Extending the Old Age Living Allowance to More Places
240. At present, about 19 000 and 1 400 Hong Kong elderly persons who reside in Guangdong and Fujian are receiving Old Age Allowance and CSSA respectively. To further facilitate Hong Kong elderly persons who choose to reside in Guangdong and Fujian, the Government will extend the Old Age Living Allowance to the two provinces to provide monthly payment (including Normal and Higher allowances) for eligible elderly persons.
Providing Support for Ex-mentally Ill Persons
241. To enhance social support for ex-mentally ill persons and facilitate their re-integration into the community, the SWD has set up 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) operated by NGOs across the territory, providing one-stop and district-based mental health support services for ex-mentally ill persons and persons with suspected mental health problems aged 15 or above, their family members/carers and residents living in the districts concerned. The Government will expand the service targets of ICCMWs to secondary school students with mental health needs to strengthen professional support for them.
Strengthening Support for Ethnic Minorities
242. Ethnic Minorities (EMs) are members of the Hong Kong family. The Government has been providing support for EMs through various measures to ensure equal opportunities for them and facilitate their integration into the community.
243. The population of EMs in Hong Kong has been growing steadily and their needs for public services and support have become more diversified. The Government established the Steering Committee on Ethnic Minorities Affairs, under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary for Administration, in July this year to enhance internal collaboration among government bureaux/departments on support for EMs.
244. To further strengthen support for EMs, the Government will, starting from 2019-20, introduce the following measures:
- refining the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality to ensure their application to all government bureaux, departments and related organisations providing services for EMs. The Government will also strengthen the training on cultural sensitivity within the civil service. Moreover, the Home Affairs Department (HAD) will enhance the interpretation and translation services provided by the CHEER Centre;
- the EDB will continue implementing the Chinese Language Curriculum Second Language Learning Framework (learning framework) and monitoring its implementation. Moreover, the EDB will continue commissioning post-secondary institutions to provide school-based support services for kindergartens, primary and secondary schools admitting non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students in the three school years from 2019/20 to 2021/22, so as to enhance the professional competency of teachers. In view of the learning needs of NCS students, the school-based curriculum, learning and teaching as well as assessment arrangements will also be adapted with reference to the learning framework, so as to allow these students to learn Chinese more effectively. Starting from the 2019/20 school year, the EDB will provide a five-tiered subsidy for kindergartens joining the Kindergarten Education Scheme based on the number of NCS students admitted so that these schools can provide more appropriate support for their NCS students, thereby assisting them in learning Chinese, fostering a diversified culture and building an inclusive environment. Furthermore, the EDB will provide additional resources to support NCS students with special educational needs in public sector ordinary primary and secondary schools and facilitate NCS students’ learning of Chinese History in secondary schools;
- the Labour Department will enhance its manpower support to launch a pilot programme in conjunction with NGOs to provide employment services for EM job seekers through a case management approach. To cater for the needs of EMs, the Employees Retraining Board will also expand its Chinese language and industry-specific training courses and allow for more flexibility in the eligibility criteria for course enrolment. In addition, the disciplined services will step up recruitment and outreaching efforts to encourage more EMs to join them;
- the SWD will commission NGOs to set up dedicated outreach teams to actively approach needy EM families and assist in their access to mainstream welfare services. The SWD will also enhance its prevention and support services for EMs in combating domestic and sexual violence. Moreover, the SWD will set up specialised EM units in some of the Parents/Relatives Resources Centres for persons with disabilities, and increase the resources for Special Child Care Centres as well as Early Education and Training Centres to step up its support for EM families in need; and
- the HAD will organise more district-based activities to encourage interaction and exchange between EMs and local communities. The HAD will also strengthen the services of the support service centres for EMs, particularly those services catering for EM new arrivals and youngsters. The disciplined services will also enhance interaction with EM children and youngsters through their school-based outreach programmes and the Junior Police Call’s activities.
A total of $500 million has been earmarked in this year’s Budget for supporting the above-mentioned measures.
245. I announced in the Policy Address last year that public markets would be built in Tin Shui Wai and Tung Chung to offer wider choices of fresh provisions to the public. We have completed the studies on site selection and plan to spare space at the section of Tin Fuk Road outside Tin Shui Wai MTR Station for building a new public market; the public market in Tung Chung will be built at the lower floors of a commercial building in Area 6, which is adjacent to Tung Chung MTR Station. We will conduct local consultation on the location and design shortly, and further explore the mode of operation of the new markets.
246. We are also identifying sites for public markets in Tseung Kwan O and Kwu Tung North NDA. As to the 99 existing public markets, most of them were constructed decades ago, and many of which are situated in prime locations. We are conducting a comprehensive review of the usage and development potential of these market sites, with a view to formulating appropriate development plans for fulfilment of policy objectives of optimising land uses, benefitting the public and promoting district development. Specifically, for those markets of low utilisation, we will consider changing their land use or demolishing them for redevelopment so as to release space for provision of community facilities.
247. Furthermore, $2 billion has been earmarked in this year’s Budget for the implementation of the Market Modernisation Programme, which has been launched with the overhaul of Aberdeen Market as the pioneering project. The modernisation of public markets will not be confined to retrofitting of air conditioning systems. Rather, we will undertake refurbishment, in-situ redevelopment or relocation as appropriate with a view to providing the public with better municipal facilities and services.
248. The Government is determined to improve our cityscape and will adopt a multi-pronged approach to enhance environmental hygiene and cleanliness. On top of additional resource allocation, we will apply innovation and technologies in street cleansing through the use of machines and automation, reinforce public education and step up enforcement.
249. Maintaining a hygienic environment is indeed the fundamental means to address rodent infestation and mosquito breeding at the source. In view of the surge of dengue fever cases this summer, we have enhanced inter-departmental co-ordination and collaboration. We are also exploring ways to renew the surveillance system of mosquito breeding to enhance its alert function. Our ongoing effort in maintaining environmental hygiene relies on the support and co-operation of each and every of our citizens. As such, I look to the continuous joint effort of the Government and all sectors of society to keep Hong Kong clean.
Discrimination Law Review
250. We will seek to introduce the Discrimination Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill into the LegCo by the end of this year to take forward eight recommendations of priority which are found less complex and controversial in the Equal Opportunities Commission’s Discrimination Law Review. These recommendations include introducing express provisions to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of breastfeeding, prohibiting racial discrimination and harassment by imputation and expanding the scope of protection from sexual, disability and racial harassment with a view to enhancing legal protection for persons concerned (especially women, EMs and employees).
251. The HKSAR Government has been committed to promoting equal opportunities for people of different sexual orientations and transgenders on the basis of upholding the existing institution of monogamy and heterosexual marriage. On public education and publicity, we have been proactively promoting the culture and values of inclusiveness, mutual respect and non-discrimination, including introducing the Code of Practice against Discrimination in Employment on the Ground of Sexual Orientation to employers. At present, over 300 organisations employing a total of more than 500 000 employees have adopted the code. Regarding the support for sexual minorities, a 24-hour hotline for supporting sexual minorities operated by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and subsidised by the Government was launched in January this year to provide easily accessible support, counselling and referral services for sexual minorities. Over 1 600 calls have been received by the hotline. We will provide training resources for medical and healthcare professionals later this year to enhance their knowledge of and sensitivity towards sexual minorities. Also, we are drawing up a charter on non-discrimination of sexual minorities covering various areas for voluntary adoption by service providers to promote the acceptance of sexual minorities. We are currently studying the experience of other places in implementing anti-discrimination measures through administrative and legislative initiatives. The study is expected to be completed by the first half of next year. The findings will provide more information to facilitate a more in-depth and rational discussion in the community on the issue of whether legislation should be introduced to protect people of different sexual orientations and transgenders against discrimination.