Overhaul urged to ease hardships of hawkers
Supporters of Tai Hang's egg-waffle man, Ng Yuk-fai, have called for an overhaul of the welfare and hawker-control systems. Speaking as Ng reported to police under the terms of his bail after his arrest for welfare fraud, they said neither the dole nor earnings from hawking were enough for a family to survive on alone.
Ng's story hit the headlines when he was arrested and fined in April for illegal hawking - for the 38th time. He made the news again when arrested for allegedly receiving welfare while making money selling egg waffles.
Social sciences instructor Dr Leung Chi-yuen said hawkers and dole recipients were caught in a cost-of-living and inflation trap.
'Losing either one of their income sources can seriously cripple them from being able to feed their families,' said Leung, who teaches at Polytechnic University.
The government had also cracked down aggressively on hawkers in the past few years, making it harder for hawkers to earn a living, he said.
Ng is hoping he will be able to start earning a living again soon.
'I do hope to start working again soon, maybe around the Mid-Autumn Festival,' he said yesterday.
But a programme officer with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Yip Po-lan, who is following Ng's case, said nothing was certain. 'Whether Ng can get welfare or not still depends on how the Social Welfare Department assesses the case and his income,' she said. Whether he could resume work depended on the outcome of any court case.
Ng would find out when he reported to police again in about six weeks whether he would be charged.
Leung said Ng's case illustrated problems with the welfare system. He said hawker licences were first issued to help poor people make a some kind of living and were counted as social welfare, but when the welfare safety net began in 1971, the government's stance on hawker licensing changed. 'The government thinks that if people can get welfare, then they don't need to be hawkers,' he said.
What the government forgot was that licensing regulations have not been updated since the 1970s, and many people were caught between their means of livelihood and newer hygiene and environment rules.
It was not uncommon, Leung said, for people to have 'little jobs on the side to supplement their welfare'.
Hawker and welfare concern groups gathered in support of Ng yesterday. 'If the government really wants to help those in the lower echelons of society, then they should support us in making our own living,' a former hawker from Tin Shui Wai said.