Extend safety net for those in need
Finally, the government has come up with a plan to help those left out in John Tsang Chun-wah's giveaway swansong budget. The Community Care Fund plans to dish out HK$100 million in subsidies for people living in poor conditions. About 40,000 residents who live in partitioned flats, bed spaces and temporary housing may get a one-off HK$3,000 payment to help pay the rent. This is belated but welcome relief.
The move came in response to criticism that the outgoing finance chief has failed to help the so-called N-nothing class, a term referring to those who slip through the safety net of welfare services and budget relief measures. They do not pay tax - and, therefore, will not get tax rebates - nor are they welfare recipients, who will get bonus payments, or public housing tenants, who will enjoy rent waivers, under the HK$80 billion relief package announced last month.
It is a shame that an affluent city like Hong Kong has been denying these people any help until now. Arguably, the rental subsidy may only provide temporary relief, but politically it is a necessary gesture to soothe their grievances.
The fact that these people have to turn to an ad hoc government fund for help is regrettable. Set up in 2010, amid growing discontent over the widening wealth gap, with a view to supplementing the existing safety net, the HK$10 billion charity is a joint venture with the business sector . Although the fund has proved to be a good supplement, it should not become a substitute for long-term protection.
Hong Kong prospers from a strong sense of self-reliance and can-do spirit. As we strive to help those who cannot stand on their own feet, it is necessary to discourage long-term dependence on welfare. But for those with genuine difficulties, there is no alternative but to extend the safety net. The fund has so far come up with 15 spending initiatives. Officials should consider turning some of the worthy ones into permanent assistance.