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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 1:41am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's middle-class need help, not coffee

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 11:45pm

John Tsang Chun-wah risks turning himself into an object of ridicule for his remarks over the middle class. With a monthly pay of HK$368,220 and numerous properties here and overseas, the finance chief hardly belongs to the middle class we know. He appears to have made things worse when he sought to defend himself amid simmering outrage over his post-budget statements. Referring to his favourite pastimes such as cinema and drinking tea, the US-educated minister argued that middle class is a matter of a lifestyle rather than how much one earns. He was, unsurprisingly, roundly criticised for losing touch with the public.

If Tsang thinks describing himself as middle class can win him sympathy, he is clearly mistaken. He is now under growing pressure to retract his statement and apologise for the gaffe. More worrying is whether it reflects the mindset of the government. If Tsang truly believes he is no different from anyone in the middle class, there is little wonder why his counterparts complain they do not get much from his budget. Unlike the finance chief, who earns HK$4.4 million a year and lives in a luxurious official residence, many in the middle-income bracket are struggling to pay off their property mortgages. One caller in a radio phone-in programme rightly questioned whether the government needs to lift the entire society out of poverty if Tsang is deemed middle class.

Governments around the world can ill-afford ignoring the needs of the middle class. They hold the key to social stability and sustainable development. The strong reaction over the past two days underlines people's discontent accumulated over the years. They do not wield strong political influence like the rich and powerful; nor do they get handouts or subsidised housing like the underprivileged. Yet this silent majority is too often neglected by government. When they turned to the budget for some relief, they were told a small tax rebate and a rate waiver would be sufficient. It is not difficult to see why public satisfaction with his first budget after reappointment has plunged eight points to 30 per cent.

It takes more than watching movies or drinking tea to feel the heat of the middle class. The finance chief is not being urged to provide more handouts. But if he is as understanding as he claims to be, he could have done more to help. Instead of giving direct subsidies, the middle class expect better education and health care, less pollution and effective governance. A good living environment to pursue their goals is what they want.

"Why middle class benefits little from budget relief", Video by Hedy Bok


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This article is now closed to comments

Are the people in charge of Hong Kong's public coffers genuinely this effete and clueless? It seems so.
Prior to the French Revolution, when told the masses had no bread to eat, Marie Antoinette famously replied: "Let them eat cake." Tsang's insensitivity here is on a par.
Hong Kong has desperate problems: property prices are psychotic, pollution continues to worsen, and many citizens live in substandard housing while traders from the luxury malls of TST to the pharmacies of Sheng Shui cater to mainland customers. Instead of aggressively addressing these problems, a senior member of the CY Leung administration delivers a sketchy budget that does little to help the middle class, then insults the intelligence of Hong Kongers by declaring himself "middle class."
This weekend will see some interesting protests. The CY Leung administration seems to ensure continual photo-ops for international media--people worldwide must be wondering just what is so terribly wrong with the Hong Kong government.
Err, John Tsang isn’t an aristocrat.
In HK today, middle class doesn’t mean anything more than people who work in white-collar jobs (professionals, managers, etc) -- and that definitely includes civil servants.
It’s not about the people who are “in the middle”, which would be a rather meaningless way to classify a population. Every country has people who are "in the middle", but not every country has a middle class.
I suspect the real problem here is working class people who think they're middle class just because they've got an LV bag. No, you're not.
People, stop complaining or making jokes about him and start to define what middle class is where the line is between upper and middle class.
In most of the industrialised countries, you belong to middle class if you: have a house, have minimum a car, can afford at least one time a year travel for holiday.
What does the "HK middle class" has? You think 40-60K a month is a high salary compared to the cost of living in HK? Stop being so naiv. Middle class does not mean the majority of the people. Middle class is somewhere between the upper class and the lower class.
Time for the new CEO to evaluate the grossly overpaid government senior government officers? What about their performance, their accountability?
Your last paragraph in your editorial sounded more like a true middle class, with what they wanted, with the omission of affordable housing, which is lacking in Hong Kong for the middle class.
Life is easy in HK if all that one needs to do to be middle class is watch French movies and drink coffee! Nowhere else in the world is it as easy.
Yes, nowhere else in the world as easy. Time for some fun, at least a little fun. How about all the Middleclass in Hong Kong take a day off work TOGETHER, have a coffee (or tea in the case of Mr Tsang) and watch a movie (preferable French one), do a little soul searching together, share a little whining......Mr Tsang can lead the pack. Shall we have a Middleclass Day, or JT Day?
it is the middle class, in the end, that change governments, and structures of governance. You don't need to be a Marxist to know that.
HK people have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that HK officials face no accountability.
Their only accountability is to Beijing.
“Governments around the world can ill-afford ignoring the needs of the middle class. They hold the key to social stability and sustainable development”. The editorial’s statement should be qualified. Governments couldn’t ignore them because there are more people in the middle class. Therefore it is just more efficient if policies can satisfy the majority – the middle class. SCMP can do us a service to define what middle class meant in Hong Kong and how many are there? Let us see how far off SF’s claim is or not.


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