Social Welfare System in Hong Kong
Question 1: Identify one type of the social welfare, discuss its services of Hong Kong and a)explain its values, rationales and objectives; b)ways of service delivery; c)discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the service and d)make suggestions to improve the services in future. CSSA—AN INTRODUCTION The comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA) is surely one of the most influential social welfare in Hong Kong, in terms of money and beneficiary.
In the fiscal year of 2010 alone, 19 billion was spent on CSSA, which increased noticeably by 40% as compared with the expenditure ten years ago.
As at the end of 2009, total number of CSSA cases amounted to 289 139, representing an increase of 25. 3% over 1999. CSSA accounted for 8. 6% of government recurrent expenditure, compared with 7. 5% in 2000. During 1999 to 2009, the average growth in total number of cases per annum was 2. 3%. In fact, the growth rate of CSSA cases is expected to accelerate because the growth of elderly population will peak in 2016-2026.
In other words, the problem is not coming yet. But it will within 10 years. In view of the potential alarming situation, there is an urgent need to investigate the effectiveness of the scheme. This essay will give a brief review of the captioned scheme as well as to discuss possible ways to improve the services in the future, making the most effective use of government resources. CSSA—ITS VALUES, RATIONALES AND OBJECTIVES The CSSA Scheme was introduced in 1993, replacing the former Public Assistance Scheme, and evolved over the past 20 years into the current complex system.
It is designed to provide a safety net for individuals or families who cannot support themselves financially for various reasons such as old age, disability, illness, unemployment and low earnings. The CSSA Scheme provides financial assistance to bring the income of such individuals or families up to a prescribed level to meet their basic needs. All CSSA recipients are entitled to free medical treatment at public hospitals or clinics. It is administered by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and is non-contributory but means-tested.
APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS To be eligible for assistance, the applicant must satisfy the residence requirements, that is, to have resided in Hong Kong continuously for at least one year before the date of application and be a Hong Kong resident for seven years. Yet, exception can be granted for discretion. They must also pass both the income and assets tests. To pass the income test means the applicant’s total assessable monthly household income is insufficient to meet their total monthly needs as recognized under the Scheme.
To pass the asset test means the total value of the capital assets held by the applicant is below the prescribed limit. If the applicant lives with other family members, the application shall be made on a household basis. On top of the basic subsistence support, there is a number of supplements, like disability, old age, community living, single parent, transport supplement, which is too excessive to mention here. A person can make an application directly to a social security field unit, or by referral to the Social Welfare Department by another government department or a non-governmental organization.
Upon receipt of an application, staff of the SWD will conduct investigation and verification of the applicant’s circumstances. It is usually completed in a month and is very convenient. CSSA—ITS STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES Generally speaking CSSA has been quite effective in providing a safety nets towards the needy, whether the amount of grants is sufficient or not is subject to argument, one has to acknowledge the fact that there is no major starvation/freezing death caused by poverty in recent years. The general living conditions and nutrition’s of the poor improved, compared many years ago.
In the past, social welfare is just a feeding station, or remedy measures after the problems exist, CSSA, with its recent reform of adding more and more subsidies like disabilities, elderly, transport supplement…etc, is a rather complicated cash transfer framework, which definitely, effectively created a safety net and contributed a part of improving peoples’ living standard. It seems that CSSA was able to fulfill the very basic philosophy of social security policy and social policy in general terms, which is residual or remedial. CSSA is somewhat a passive scheme as a rescue if the applicant himself, or his family failed to help.
It is remedial because it functions only if you fall and will not prevent you from falling. This is of no doubt that CSSA can solve immediate issues, but not the root of it. In fact there are changes that CSSA can make to help better cope with this problem. Moreover, there is room of improvement of the efficiency of the scheme, as it has become more and more complex that something can be done to make it more efficient as a safety net. And as progress, it is vital that we look at the possible policy that can be adjusted to better cope with the situation as things do change over time.
One of the major characteristics of CSSA is that it is a means tested scheme. In a nutshell, as long as the applicant meets the requirements, the applicants are entitled to get the benefits, as a matter of right. What they do is to assess the quantitative elements of the applicants, such as how many assets they have, how much they earn per month, the severity of his sickness, and treat them as fair as possible, without looking at their background, their ability, the reason they apply for the scheme.
As a government servant, I comprehend the difficulty to do so because their job is to do assessment on the financial criteria. But CSSA is not just simple financial assistance, ideally speaking. When the unemployed come for assistance, their problem is not just short of money for assistance, they are unable or not willing to find jobs which they do not like or do not match their skills or think the wage is too low for him. Recent news reporting a postgraduate graduated from The Chinese University of Hong Kong is an example. CSSA applicants have problems besides financing.
I dare say a considerably proportion of staff running the program are not equipped with the skills that can deal with the key issue, thus missed the chance of preliminary investigation of the candidate while looking at the documents and data before the grant. However, CSSA is far from sufficient to provide something constructive, to help the recipients for taking constructive acts to participate in society. Right now we see that, the community is increasingly dependent, which is harmful. The CSSA should abandon the passive strategy of simply looking at needs and handing out cash.
This can be done by demanding the recipients to take steps to help themselves as a prerequisite to receive the payments. It has in fact already been adopted and have a positive result. With the introduction of the intensified Support for Self-reliance Scheme measures in June 2003, there was a rapid deceleration in the rate of increase in unemployment cases during June to September 2003, the number of cases also started to decline as from October 2003 to October 2008. But the unemployment case started to rise since 2009, and almost reached the level of 1999, which is the year of financial crisis.
As a suggestion, the said scheme can add community service work as a component of the criteria of getting subsistence, such as to clean toilets in governmental departments, of some minimum hours per month as a way to encourage them to contribute to the society. Back to the postgraduate in CU as an example, of course he will get something better than looking after elderly as a job! Even if he cannot do so what he has done will be beneficial to the society. Moreover, the scheme is becoming more complicated as more and more supplement and discretionary items have been added.
It is no longer a system that is administratively simple or efficient. The lack of training of the said officials and the complexity the system deter the efficiency of the officials to tackle the applicants specific needs, rather in a degree enhanced their reliability on CSSA. Alternative of solving the problems, despite of training workers, is to tidy up the current structure of the administration, such as diving the recipients into categories, with their own eligibility criteria, referrals, conditions of assistance and kinds of help to offer.
Bureau working on this will be, despite more systematic, will have a much more clear idea of how to help the applicant and in turn, the applicant received a better idea of their benefit and get better helped. For instance the financial needs of the elderly should be considered with their health care. They may, because worrying insufficient money to pay their health care, save the already little grants received from CSSA, sacrificing their living quality. There seems little cooperation with the Social Welfare department with relevant charity organizations.
The same applies to other groups, like, for single parents family, which they save the CSSA for family services. I have already made the point through the above that CSSA, generally speaking is effective and have done a good job in providing a safety net to Hong Kong, by a one-way handout of cash. But it can, in fact, requiring the recipients to contribute back to the society by adding a component of voluntary services element into the scheme. This, on one hand can screen out people who do not really need CSSA, thus focusing to the resources and attention to those desperately in need.
And on the other hand to help those screened out forcing them getting back to the mainstream. And as mentioned about, the efficiency of the CSSA system can be more efficient by adopting a categorical approach, better matching the skills of staff working therein and the background of recipients. In a nutshell, CSSA do create some sort of dependency because, looking at the amount of CSSA cases and the economy of Hong Kong it is not very much correlated. That suggests that the determining factor for the number of people on welfare is, maybe the welfare system itself.
Therefore it is very critical for the government to formulate its social welfare policy so that the policy will not create dependency by itself, better organizing structure of manpower, so the budget can save a few billion and most importantly, better matching of resources and helping those really in need. (1719 words) Reference: 1. Research and Statistics Section, Social Welfare Department, Statistics on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, 1999 to 2009 2. Social Welfare Department, A Guide to Comprehensive Social Security Assistance