Unceasing efforts in poverty alleviation Determination in tackling social contradictions
15 September 2019
Unaffordable housing and income disparity are long-standing and deep-seated problems faced by Hong Kong society. The current-term Government has all along placed emphasis on tackling livelihood issues through appropriate policy measures with a view to improving the living standards of grassroots families and enabling the general public to share the fruits of Hong Kong’s prosperity and economic development.
Poverty alleviation remains the focus of our efforts. As a major policy platform, the Commission on Poverty (CoP) provides advice to help the Government review different assistance programmes and explore ways to help the underprivileged, with a view to achieving the objective of poverty prevention and alleviation, thereby facilitating upward social mobility and providing support for groups with special needs.
Low-income families living in subdivided units are one of our major target groups. Over the past two months, the Government has launched a series of measures to better support disadvantaged grassroots families. First, the CoP agreed to launch the Assistance Programme to Improve the Living Environment of Low-income Subdivided Unit Households (the Programme) 1. The Programme aims to provide a one-off non-cash subsidy for low-income subdivided unit (SDU) households to carry out minor improvement/repair works at home, purchase furniture and household goods as well as obtain pest control services. In addition, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) assisting in the implementation of the Programme will help disseminate information on the community services and resources available to these households so that they can receive suitable support. This is to ensure that none of the disadvantaged are forgotten in society.
Having listened to the views of the CoP Members, we decided to increase the number of subsidy levels according to beneficiary household sizes and raise the upper subsidy limits under the Programme. In the original proposal, there were only two subsidy levels, under which the upper limits of non-cash subsidy for each eligible SDU household were $8,500 (one-person households) and $10,000 (two-or-more-person households). On Members’ recommendation, two more subsidy levels have been added with the upper limits of non-cash subsidy for a three-person household and a four-or-more-person household set at $11,500 and $13,000 respectively.
The Social Welfare Department has entrusted the Hong Kong Council of Social Service as a co-ordinator to partner with NGOs as agents to assist in the implementation of the Programme. Various preparatory work is underway. Scheduled for implementation in the second quarter of next year (2020) at the earliest, the Programme will run for two years, benefitting about 24 000 low-income SDU households. The total expenditure is estimated to be about $287.04 million.
To counter the challenging external and local economic environment faced by Hong Kong recently, the Government announced three weeks ago (on 15 August) a package of measures to support enterprises, safeguard jobs and relieve people’s burden. Costing about $19.1 billion, these measures aim to provide support to small and medium enterprises, secure employment and ease the financial burden of the people.
The above measures are intended for people with financial needs as well as those who are underprivileged. The Government will provide an extra allowance, which is equal to one month’s payment, to the recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Old Age Allowance, Old Age Living Allowance and Disability Allowance. Similar arrangements will apply to recipients of the Working Family Allowance (WFA) and individual-based Work Incentive Transport Subsidy (WITS). This measure will cost about $4 billion and benefit about 1.33 million social security recipients, 57 000 eligible households receiving WFA and 31 600 eligible individual-based WITS recipients. Furthermore, the Government will pay one month’s rent for lower income tenants living in public rental units of the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society. This will cost about $1.4 billion and benefit about 785 000 tenants.
To cater for the needs of the “N have-nots” (i.e. low-income households not living in public housing and not receiving CSSA), including SDU households, we will invite the Community Care Fund (CCF) under the CoP to provide them with a one-off living subsidy to fill the existing gaps of the assistance programmes. Drawing reference from the experience of disbursing a living subsidy to the “N have-nots” in 2016, the CCF Task Force will formulate the details of the proposed programme as soon as possible for the CoP’s consideration, and will announce the eligibility criteria, subsidy levels, application procedures and other particulars upon approval. Based on the implementation experience in 2016, we estimate that each eligible household will be given a subsidy of $4,000 to $14,000 depending on household size, and more than 160 000 persons (about 66 000 households) will benefit from the programme.
Other measures to relieve people’s burden include providing kindergarten, primary and secondary day-school students in the 2019/20 school year with a subsidy of $2,500 each to alleviate the financial burden of education expenses on their parents. This will cost about $2.3 billion and benefit over 900 000 students. We will also provide a one-off electricity charge subsidy of $2,000 for each of the 2.7 million eligible residential electricity accounts. Coupled with other measures to support enterprises and safeguard jobs, these measures are expected to provide impetus for our economy and help cushion the enterprises and people of Hong Kong against challenges arising from economic uncertainties. The Government will follow up on the implementation of the measures in full speed. For those helping measures that require additional resources, we will seek funding approval from the Legislative Council (LegCo) as soon as it resumes business in a bid to obtain support from LegCo Members and benefit the public in good time.
Poverty alleviation is an on-going task that requires sustained determination, vision and strategic efforts. The Government’s estimated recurrent expenditure on livelihood matters (such as social welfare, education and health) for 2019-20 amounted to over $250 billion, accounting for about 60% of the total recurrent expenditure.
Against the backdrop of the current social unrest, the Government will sustain its commitment and efforts to launch more policy measures that can immediately result in improvements of people’s livelihood. Long-term strategies will also be formulated to attend to people’s daily needs. The Government will uphold the core values of relieving poverty and helping the underprivileged regardless of the political turmoil.
The Government is preparing for a platform for the Chief Executive and Principal Officials to reach out to the community to start a direct dialogue shortly. Under this two-way dialogue platform, people from all walks of life with different political stances and backgrounds will be invited to discuss with the Government pragmatic and practical solutions to the long-standing economic, social, livelihood and political issues, including housing and land supply, income distribution, social justice, opportunities for young people, social mobility, as well as public engagement in the Government’s decision-making. The Government will invite community leaders, professionals and academics to independently examine and review society’s deep-seated problems and make recommendations to the Government.
I hope that, through direct exchanges with members of the public in a peaceful, rational and mutually respectful atmosphere, we will be able to draw on collective wisdom by canvassing public opinions to formulate more appropriate policies and measures.