122. The setting of a poverty line for Hong Kong based on the concept and methodology of relative poverty, which only measures income without considering assets, was advocated by me as Chairman of the Commission on Poverty, in my capacity as the Chief Secretary for Administration. The objective is to monitor the poverty situation and alleviate poverty with targeted efforts through regular data collection and analysis. Past analyses show that elderly and working poor households are two groups requiring special attention, and PRH is the most effective poverty alleviation measure. As such, there are views that the poverty problem of Hong Kong is in fact a housing problem. Besides expediting the development of PRH, the current-term Government has significantly improved cash welfare over the past few years. First, the introduction of the Higher Old Age Living Allowance (OALA) has enabled some 570 000 elderly persons, including those with owner-occupied property or living with income-earning family members, to receive a higher monthly allowance of $3,815. Second, enhancements to the Working Family Allowance (WFA) Scheme have substantially increased the rates of allowances and relaxed the eligibility criteria, thus allowing a four-person household with two children which has an income not exceeding $22,400 to receive a maximum monthly allowance of $4,200. Third, a series of measures to improve the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) have been implemented, including substantially increasing the rent allowance and relaxing the eligibility for a range of special grants. As a result of the implementation of these three initiatives and other improvement measures, the total recurrent expenditure on cash welfare has increased to $67.4 billion in 2021-22, which is 56% higher than that in 2017-18.
123. The Government’s poverty alleviation strategies will focus on four areas in future. First, we will continue to lift needy elderly out of poverty by providing cash welfare including the CSSA and the OALA. We will merge the Normal and Higher OALA in the second half of next year so that the more lenient asset limits of the Normal OALA will be adopted across-the-board, and eligible applicants will receive payment at the Higher OALA rate. Second, we will continue to develop our economy, provide training and retraining, encourage employment, and provide financial support for working households with lower incomes, particularly those with children, through the WFA Scheme. Third, we will vigorously speed up PRH construction, build more transitional housing, and provide cash allowances to eligible PRH applicants who have been waiting for PRH for more than three years. Fourth, under the principle of shared responsibility, we will strengthen the MPF retirement protection. The priority task is to take forward the abolition of the “offsetting” arrangement by introducing legislative amendments in the next legislative year. We will also endeavour to lower the management cost of the MPF by implementing the eMPF Platform at full steam, and put in place the measure of the Government paying MPF contributions for low-income workers. Furthermore, we will further explore ways to better encourage the public to convert their one-off assets under the MPF into an annuity which they can receive on a regular basis after retirement, so as to provide a steady income for the elderly.