Reverse the residential eligibility for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA)
Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, GBS, JP
Secretary for Labour and Welfare
Labour and Welfare Bureau
2/F East Wing
Central Government Offices
Lower Albert Road, Central
Dear Mr Cheung,
Residential Eligibility for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA)
We are delighted and privileged that you will be coming to speak at the September luncheon meeting of the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation. We look forward to your speech. However, there is one subject within your policy portfolio that we would like to raise now and which you may like to address. This is the question of residential eligibility for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA).
This has become quite confused as a result of recent court cases: it seems to be the position that whereas, previously, the requirement was for seven years residence i.e. eligible for a Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card as well as having been resident in Hong Kong for a full year minus 56 days immediately prior to application, the second of these conditions has fallen away as a result of a judgment in a Judicial Review case in May this year while the first condition was upheld in a Judicial Review case in June 2009. From the information of the Social Welfare Department website it seems that adults who wish to apply for CSSA must have been residents for seven years or more but need not have been residents for the year immediately prior to their application while those who became residents prior to 1 January 2004 are subject to NO residence requirements at all.
We would like to suggest that the simplest and fairest way of sorting out this situation would be to require all applicants to have been resident in Hong Kong for at least a year, with no requirement as to having been in Hong Kong immediately prior to application and with the possibility of exemption from even the one year residence requirement in compassionate cases.
Our proposal would simply take the requirements back to what they were before 2003, which was straightforward for the Social Welfare Department to administer and which led to no undue hardship for applicants nor to an undue burden on the Hong Kong economy. The extension of the residence requirement from one to seven years was undertaken at a time when the economy was reeling under the impact of SARS and the CSSA caseload was climbing at a rate that was, frankly, terrifying: for example, the number of “unemployment” cases receiving CSSA climbed by 110% between April 2001 and May 2003. This was a time of great crisis and it is understandable that drastic measures were taken but it would be more consistent with our present situation to take a milder approach which would also be compatible with the Courts’ decisions. Our proposal would end the hardship that is currently suffered by many families in which a Mainland spouse comes to join a Hong Kong spouse and yet cannot apply for CSSA in his or her own right. As is well known, this leads to circumstances in which e.g. a family of two adults and two children has to live on the welfare payments granted as sufficient for one adult and two children or a lone parent has to eat into the CSSA which is intended to provide only for a child or children.
It would be even better if such changes were just the first step in a radical review of Hong Kong’s immigration policies. Such a review should examine, and formulate new policies on, issues like:
- the optimum population for Hong Kong;
- the numbers currently outside Hong Kong who have a right of residence which they are likely to take up;
- likely rates of emigration;
- the process by which Cross-border families are reunited in Hong Kong; and
- ways to ensure that children who are likely to live in Hong Kong later on are as well prepared as possible for the experience.
We hope that your Bureau will look seriously into the points raised in this letter. We will be happy to discuss them further at any time.
Alan Lung Ka Lun (龍家麟)
Chairman, Hong Kong Democratic Foundation (香港民主促進會主席)
3 August 2010