Poverty alleviation, coverage and fiscal sustainability: Investigating the effect of a new social pension in Hong Kong

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Abstract

This article synthesises the characteristics of social pensions across Asia and evaluates the effect of a new social pension in the Hong Kong SAR, the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), on poverty alleviation, coverage rates and fiscal sustainability. We found that the effectiveness of the OALA in reducing old-age poverty was limited, although it has led to an increase of retirement pension coverage by 6%. The OALA is projected to face substantial cost increases in the medium and longer term. Increasing the level of OALA benefits would be a direct means to enhance its poverty alleviation effect but may potentially be hampered by concerns about the fiscal sustainability of such changes. More obfuscated alternatives for Hong Kong policy makers to affect old-age poverty alleviation include adjusting the indexing rules of benefit level payments and the eligibility criteria to reduce the stigma attached to the current policy choices.

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