Society for Community Organisation's (SoCo) view on CSSA payment policy for new immigrants
The Hong Kong Population Policy of 2003 has led the Comprehensive Social Services Assistance (CSSA) Scheme to extend the residence requirement for new immigrants to seven years in 2004. This has caused economic difficulties for some new immigrants as those who are in need cannot get assistance. This policy is discriminatory against new immigrant families, divides the community and is creating severe social problems.
The purpose of the current CSSA system runs against the needs-based principle and it is one of the major factors leading to negative social and economic development of children of new immigrants. It also violates the Basic Law and the International Bill of Human Rights. SoCo's analysis and recommendations on how the problem might to be solved are as follows:
1. The seven year residency requirement of CSSA is contrary the needs-based intention
At present, new immigrants accounted for only ten percent of CSSA recipients. More than half of those recipients are children and most of the rest are single mothers who take care of their children and have special difficulty. As CSSA is the only safety net in Hong Kong, it should aim to help needy people and not to ask the length of their residency. Refusing CSSA payment to new immigrants is a fundamental breach of basic human rights and hinders the CSSA's social role. The seven-year requirement also clearly reduces the new immigrants to a "second-class citizens" status.
2. Where appropriate, harsh requirements on single mothers should be waived
CSSA is the only safety net in Hong Kong to help people in need, but it now comes with the seven-year residency requirement for new immigrants. Although the Social Welfare Department (SWD) stresses that the power of discretion could effectively solve the problem, only hundreds out of thousands of applications were successful. Even with help or referrals from social workers, many applications have been rejected. Even amongst the cases approved, many took months or more than half a year to get to formal approval; this indicates an efficiency problem within the SWD. In addition, the SWD usually asks, regardless of the number or the age of the children the new immigrants have or the condition of illness of their husbands, to find a job with monthly income of HK$ 1,630 (used to be 120 hours of work) before discretion could be exercised for CSSA payment.
New immigrant women have to work, while caring for their children and report to the SWD on their progress at the same time. Sometimes, they are forced to leave their children alone at home to go to work. They face great pressure and at the same time, their children's quality of life is affected. This is clear discrimination against new immigrants. Local Hong Kong single mothers whose children are under the age of 12 and have financial difficulties will be granted CSSA payment automatically.
3. New immigrant women contributing to taking care of families being neglected
New women immigrants are mostly those who take care of their families, however, unpaid for nurturing the next generation, so that their children could get a chance to become future pillars of society. CSSA system does not address women's unpaid contribution to society. It is also discriminatory and entraps new women immigrants in plight and poverty and live without dignity. They are not unwilling to work, but are hindered with obstacles, such as discrimination. In addition, since they have to take care of young children and with other family constraints, opportunities and choices to work are greatly reduced.
4. Family caregivers are not receiving assistance, thus seriously affecting the growth of their children
Hong Kong's future population growth may have to rely on new immigrants. The average population of new immigrants is ten years younger than that of Hong Kong. On one hand, the HKSAR Government acknowledges new immigrant children is an important pillar of our society, on the other hand the foundation of the growth of these children are weakened by government policy. Even though the stated policy sets out that children are exempted from the requirement of the seven year residency requirement, family members who take care of them often have difficulty in getting assistance. This creates more poverty problems. In particular, many single mothers who need to take care of their children cannot find jobs, and the whole family often depends on the CSSA income of a single child or of the children. This policy obviously will severely affect the growth of immigrant children.
5. Inadequate child care services and discrimination are serious problem faced by new immigrant mothers, who often have difficulties finding jobs
According to SoCo's 2009 Survey, 90% of new immigrants women wished improving their economic conditions through employment. However, existing child care service hours are often short1, expensive2 and quota limited. After-school child care and homework tutor services3 are limited. Survey also shows that nearly 80% of women immigrants has to look after their family and spend long hours taking care of young children; while at the same time, the vast majority of them can only find low-paid, part-time and shift or casual work. The main reason for their unemployment is the lack of employment supporting measures. Existing child care services are often limited to weekdays from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm. No services are provided in evenings and on holidays. These services come with high costs and limited quota which often do not cope with the mothers' long and unstable work hours.
6. Social costs will increase in the long run without timely support
New arrivals in recent years are mainly women and children. They face the new environment, new systems, culture, and family relations and most difficulties at the initial arrival stage. Government should have, in their most difficult times, offered timely assistance, so that they could have a chance to build a foundation and develop their social potential. The fact is, CSSA is now the only social safety net in Hong Kong. In other countries there are often other supporting systems beyond the CSSA. If assistance is not offered when they are in need, lives of the helpless families will further deteriorate. This social problem will get worse and cost the community more in future.
7. Violation of the Basic Law
The concept of the seven-year residency requirement to determine permanent resident status was only introduced in 1971 and it was not used to justify residents' receipt of social welfare assistance. Hong Kong's welfare system is a symbol of human civilization and the Government has no legal ground to use the seven-year residency requirement to determine the eligibility of new immigrants to receive CSSA assistance. The current requirement also violates the Basic Law and the International Bill of Human Rights. The Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are there to ensure social protection and equality. They are also there to highlight that Government has the responsibility to maintain family development and to provide support to those obliged to children maintenance.
Considering the difficulties faced by new immigrant families, we strongly recommend that the HKSAR Government should abolish the seven-year restrictions to receive CSSA and to provide other measures to help new immigrant families to get out of poverty. Our proposals are as follows:
- The Government should abide by the Basic Law and the International Bill of Human Rights, and abolish the seven-year residence requirement for CSSA for new arrivals, provide equal social security for newly arrived children and to help provide a good family environment for their growth.
- Removal of the requirement for single mother of new immigrants to work and earn no less than $ 1,630 (or 120 work hours) before they can apply for CSSA to prevent undue pressure and exhaustion to new immigrant single mothers.
- Relax the discretion and apply appropriate consideration to increase financial support to new immigrants facing financial difficulties and to avoid these families in getting into cross-generation poverty cycles situation.
- Increase provision of child care services, child care subsidies, fee waivers and the relaxation of quota restrictions on child care services application. Child care centres should open every day and should integrate into schools and tutoring services to meet the needs of new immigrant women who are in employment.
1 Creche for 0 to 2 years old, child care centers for 3 to 6 years old or after-school care for 6 to 12 years old (3 pm to 7 pm) services available only on Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 6pm and Saturday mornings from 8am to 1pm, no services on Sundays and holidays. Many parents still need to work on Sundays and holidays thus forcing them to leave their children alone.
2 At present after-school care service costs nearly a thousand dollars a month, creches and daytime child care centres charge around $4,500 a month (charge excludes lunch). The high cost of child care services discourages parents using this kind of service. Examination of reduced fee is stringent, applicant families have to go through income review and "social needs" review and that the applicant and his spouse have met the requirement of working 120/104 hours before their application. The majority of low-income families can only receive half-fee remission. Very few receive full-fee remission.
3 According to Statistics Department, in 2009 population under the age of eighteen in low-income households was 300,000, quota for creches and after-school care places was only thousands and the number of full-fee waived after-school care places was only 1,540. Population of 0 to 2 years and 6 to 11 years poor children was about 120 thousand. There was a serious shortage of places and the quota was not distributed by central allocation. This led to tight supply of exempted places for communities with more poor children while excess capacity of child care places could not be transferred which resulted in a mismatch of resources.
(The original was written in Chinese by SZE Lai-shan, Community Organiser of SoCo, September 2010
取消7年限制 放寬嚴苛酌情, 取消工作限制 增加托兒服務
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