An affluent society cares for its poor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong's claim to be a caring society has often been taken for granted. With ever-expanding welfare expenditure and an array of social services provided, there is a common belief that the poor and disadvantaged are being taken care of by the government and an extensive network of NGOs. Occasionally, the plight of some extreme cases make headlines and warrant urgent attention. But the social security safety net is generally assumed to be tight and wide enough to cover those in need of help.

However, a recent survey by the Council of Social Service suggests there is no room for complacency. The government-funded umbrella welfare group found that most recipients of comprehensive social security assistance could not afford some basic necessities. For instance, more than half of the respondents said they could not afford to go to a private doctor. One in 10 said their homes were structurally unsafe. Dental checks, decent clothing and fresh fruit were also considered luxuries for many respondents.

The council described as deprived any dole recipient who could not afford any four or more of the 35 items on a list of basic necessities. Its survey found 57 per cent of respondents could not do so. It is troubling to see that the majority of those who are supposed to be covered by social security are indeed unable to afford what most people take for granted. The council's claim that our safety net is full of holes is apparently not far from the truth.

The city cannot truly pride itself on being a caring society without redoubling its efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor. The survey findings signal the need for a rethink of welfare policy. Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has pledged to revive the commission on poverty. It is to be hoped that there will be better focus and co-ordination. As we continue to promote self-reliance in society, let's not forget those in genuine need.