"We started off with a cable car ride, and then we went to see the dolphin show," Chow Yong, 82, was thrilled when speaking of her Ocean Park trip with two other elderly friends of her. "Two dollars for a single journey. It's dirt cheap!"
Leading a simple life, Chow's major pastime is listening to Cantonese opera in the elderly center near the public estate she resides in.
Thanks to a government-financed transport fare concession scheme, her social circle has been broadened. "I enjoy going to different places especially when I am still fit and healthy," she said.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government introduced the scheme in 2012, which allows elderly people aged 65 or above and eligible persons with disabilities to travel on designated public transport modes and services any time at a concessionary fare of 2 Hong Kong dollars (about 0.25 U.S. dollars) per trip.
The SAR government has promised to be committed to improving Hong Kong people's livelihood. Carrie Lam, Chief Secretary of Administration, revealed that the government's welfare recurrent expenditure last fiscal year had grown by 40 percent compared with that of the fiscal year 2012/13, the first year when the current-term government began.
In his latest Policy Address, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that poverty alleviation, elderly care and support for the disadvantaged are at the top of the government's agenda, in which the needs of elderly citizens and young children have been given significant attentions.
As the transport fare concession scheme is extending to more transport modes and the steady rise in Hong Kong's elderly population, the government's reimbursement of revenue forgone to the operators will rise to around 1.1 billion Hong Kong dollars in this fiscal year.
This year, the government's social welfare recurrent expenditure is 62.2 billion Hong Kong dollars. The expenditure on elderly services is estimated to reach 7.4 billion Hong Kong dollars, representing an increase of 8.5 percent over the revised estimate of 6.8 billion Hong Kong dollars in 2015/16.
The SAR government promises to increase the annual recurrent expenditure by 163 million Hong Kong dollars to enhance elderly services, which mainly include providing 320 additional subsidized residential care places and 168 day care places.
Among the 1.15 million elderly population, over 830,000 people, like Chow, are enjoying different types of public allowances. Nearly 430,000 senior citizens are benefiting from the Old Age Living Allowance introduced in 2013 by the government, with the amount raised from 2,200 Hong Kong dollars to 2,390 Hong Kong dollars for each beneficiary per month.
As for services for children, the chief executive's 2016/17 Policy Address places great support towards children with special needs, such as autism and dyslexia, through Pilot Scheme on On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services.
Through the scheme, the government has approved the provision of more than 2,900 on-site service places by 16 non-governmental organizations in more than 450 kindergartens, which involves over 420 million Hong Kong dollars of funding.
The scheme, launched in November 2015, has proven to have positive effects on children with special needs. Mrs Poon's 4-year-old son was diagnosed with autism about two years ago, when the toddler was found unable to express himself verbally but keep screaming.
"In the past two, three months, my son has improved a lot. We are heartened to see that he has become more responsive and has made some friends in school," Mrs. Poon said her son is making progress in his social life after joining the scheme since January this year.
While waiting for a place in government-subsidized special child care centers, Mrs. Poon sent her son to private practitioners for treatment in the past two years, costing her a considerable amount of money.
There has been keen demand for subvented pre-school rehabilitation services in Hong Kong in recent years, with more than 7,000 children on the wait-list as of March 2016.
Heep Hong Society, a local organization committed to providing services and training for children and adolescent with learning problems, is one of the 16 organizations participating in the scheme.
Heep Hong's Regional Manager Flora Mok told Xinhua the best part of the scheme is that a large number of children can receive appropriate training and treatment while they are waiting for government subsidized services.
"The prime time for treating children with special needs is when they are under the age of six," Mok said, adding that the scheme has enhanced the cooperation between schools, parents and organizations providing treatment, which will in turn, do good to the children.
The government has reserved recurrent annual expenditure of 470 million Hong Kong dollars to regularize the scheme immediately after the completion of the Pilot Scheme to provide a maximum of 7,000 service places in phases and reduce the service waiting time to almost zero.
Apart from the above measures, in order to improve livelihood, the government is launching Low-income Working Family Allowance (LIFA) Scheme in May, which is expected to benefit 200,000 low-income working families comprising 700,000 people.
The estimated disbursement of allowances for LIFA Scheme will amount to about 2.9 billion Hong Kong dollars per year. It is expected to cut the overall poverty rate by 2 percentage points.
Since 2012, the government has introduced measures on a pilot basis through the Community Care Fund, which aims to provide assistance to people facing economic difficulties, particularly those who fall outside the social safety. More than 700 million Hong Kong dollars of recurrent expenditure has been allocated to this program.
The estimated recurrent expenditure on education, health and social welfare accounts for 60 percent of government recurrent expenditure.
Compared with 10 years ago, the expenditure of the three areas has increased by 80 percent and among which social welfare spending has more than doubled.
Tu Hai-ming, permanent honorary president of Hong Kong Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations said the current-term government has put a lot of effort in economic development and improving livelihood despite of some opposition lawmakers filibustering in the Legislative Council.
Tu said many government moves are "lifesavers" and "generous", such as setting the first official poverty line, introducing Old Age Living Allowance, raising the level of the statutory minimum wage, and solving the problem of land supply and housing.