Care fund due for spending review
How to tackle a widening wealth gap is the challenge for many governments around the world. Pressured by an increasingly discontented society in 2010, our government answered the call with a joint venture with the business sector - each to donate HK$5 billion to set up a Community Care Fund to help the poor. Despite a lukewarm response from tycoons and criticism over its targets, the fund has since rolled out more than a dozen housing, medical, welfare and education programmes. With an envious HK$6.8 billion in the coffers, the group's advisers are not short of ideas on how to spend money. The initiatives range from a one-off allowance for tenants of bed spaces and temporary housing to sponsoring overseas study tours for poor children. The handouts are no doubt welcome relief for many beneficiaries. Some subsidies may even appear over-generous. For instance, owners of 3,000 old buildings can draw money to improve fire safety and take out insurance on accidents involving third parties.
Taxpayers do not mind spending more to help the needy, especially when the cash-rich government can clearly afford to do more. Handouts like public housing rent waivers and one-month bonus welfare payments are almost standard features in the financial secretary's budgets. But whether all spending programmes are justifiable is open to debate. The last thing we want to see is officials feeling compelled to empty the fund recklessly to prove its success.
The fund was set up to bridge gaps in the existing safety net for the underprivileged, with a view to turning some of its schemes into regular government spending programmes. Some schemes, such as subsidising self-financed specialist medicine and giving schoolchildren free lunches, appear to be worth extending. Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has said he will revive the poverty commission scrapped by the current government. It makes sense to first review the fund's effectiveness before deciding on the way forward.