Priority is homes for poor who fall through cracks
Colleen Lee and Jennifer Ngo
Multibillion-dollar handouts mean nothing to mother-of-two Hu Guizhen, 33, if the money does not go towards funding the development of more public housing.
To Hu and her fellow tenants of subdivided flats, yesterday was a day of disappointment and dashed hopes. They have simply slipped through the welfare gaps again - the subsidies for public housing rent and electricity bills and the extra welfare payments announced by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in the new government budget do not apply to them.
'We have been left out again. It is very disappointing. The government does not take care of us at all. I'd rather see it hand out cash,' said the new immigrant from Zhaoqing, Guangdong, who lives with her husband, 14-year-old son and five-year-old daughter in an 80 sq ft partitioned flat in a dilapidated Sham Shui Po tenement.
'In the eyes of the government, they hope we simply don't exist and all people are tycoons and the middle class,' she said.
The government announced a 9 per cent year-on-year increase in recurrent expenditure on social welfare in 2012-13, to HK$44 billion.
Hu's husband, a driver making about HK$12,000 a month, is the family's sole breadwinner. Eating up most of their money is the monthly HK$1,500 rent, HK$800 in utility bills, HK$7,000 for food and the children's education, Hu said.
As their wait for a public housing flat continues - they'v been in the queue for more than five years - their cramped quarters are all they have for daily activities.
News of the government splashing out HK$1.9 billion to pay two months' rent for about 700,000 public housing tenants fell flat. Hu said: 'We still see no signs of hope of being allocated a public rental flat.'
An extra month's payment to 1.1 million people living on welfare, costing the government HK$2.1 billion, will not benefit families like hers. 'We are not recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, or the old age or disability allowances. We simply get nothing.'
And because her landlord will pocket the HK$1,800 electricity subsidy, Hu said that relief measure would not help them either.
As for Tsang's pledge to inject another HK$100 million into food aid programmes 'when necessary', Hu said the scheme had constraints, as it provided a limited choice of food, and for up to six weeks only.
Her plight is shared by many other households in partitioned flats.
Another mother of two, Ivy Yeung, said: 'The middle and upper classes benefit from this, not us - those who struggle the most at the bottom.'
A government source said: 'Whatever [relief] measures are rolled out, some people will inevitably be left out ... The Community Care Fund is one of the schemes that can help [people who do not live in public housing, do not live on welfare and are not taxpayers].'
But Hu pointed out no new initiative on the fund was announced.