Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday announced what she said was a HK$10-billion-a-year package of relief measures to make life easier for the elderly and the poor, admitting that her administration is reversing its previous stance on earlier proposals.
Cheaper travel is on the cards for some, with a proposal to extend an existing scheme that allows people aged over 65 to travel on public transport for HK$2 per trip to everyone aged 60 or over. Lam said this would cost the government HK$1.7 billion per year.
Another measure will see the Old Age Living Allowance and Higher Old Age Living Allowance combined into one subsidy and raised to HK$3,585 per month, giving current recipients of the lower amount an extra HK$910 per month.
The asset limit for these payments are being increased, and tens of thousands more people are expected to become eligible, with the changes to these allowances accounting for half of the HK$10 billion figure quoted.
The government is also proposing that it begins contributing to Mandatory Provident Fund savings of those people who don't earn enough to contribute themselves, with the threshold currently set at HK$7,100 per month. This could benefit some 200,000 people, but wouldn't start until 2024.
A cash subsidy is being proposed for those who have been waiting for public housing for more than three years, with a trial scheme possible from the second half of 2021, and there are suggestions of cash allowances for the jobless and underemployed.
Lam said that she hopes to implement a gradual increase in the number of statutory holidays in Hong Kong to 17, subject to discussions with the business sector which has traditionally opposed such a move.
Unionists have long complained that while many white-collar workers get 17 general holidays each year, hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers – many in the services, catering and construction sectors – only get the current 12 statutory days off.
But Lam noted that the Labour Advisory Board has been discussing this issue for years and has been unable to break the deadlock. Her "measure" will be to ask the board to work out a new proposal to progressively increase the number of statutory holidays.
The CE also said that she has proposed to the Transport and Housing Bureau that it sets up a working group to look into whether rent controls could be introduced for sub-divided flats.
Lam said the government's sole aim is to improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged residents and the proposals are not a response to the city's ongoing anti-government protests. She added that if it wasn't for the unrest, the administration could have had more time to "think faster" and more thoroughly.
She said people should see the measures and proposals as a sequel to her policy address last October, also conceding that the government had previously rejected some of the moves.
"I'm sure you will be able to find our previous different positions on some of these measures, from expressing reservations to perhaps resisting proposals or aspirations from the political parties or members of the public," the CE said.
"But we are having a sort of breakthrough in our thinking, that we should be listening more to the people."