My Take

Piercing Tsang's 'middle class' delusion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 3:30am

So John Tsang Chun-wah lives a frugal lifestyle, drinks tea and watches French movies. Good for him, but that does not make him middle class.

Maybe the finance secretary thinks being middle class is a state of mind. But as someone earning HK$302,205 a month and living in a luxury house (courtesy of taxpayers), excluding perks, benefits and a generous retirement fund, Tsang has no idea how jarring and offensive his remark about himself sounds to people who really are middle class.

Quite simply, he doesn't know how the rest of us live. And this is the guy who is holding the purse strings. It does not augur well for the government if its senior officials have no idea about the middle class. If a happy middle class forms a basis for social and political stability, you can deduce where Hong Kong politics is going when you have an increasingly disgruntled and vocal middle class.

A middle-class family should have many aspects of their lives taken care of under our social system, ensuring that they have a sizeable disposable income for discretionary spending. But that has become more and more difficult - in education, medical services, recreation, social services and welfare.

The public school system increasingly fails to meet the expectations of local families. While the poor have no alternative, many middle-class families are opting out. But sending your children to private, direct-subsidy, ESF or international schools, or to study overseas, carries enormous costs. Many are sacrificing their savings for retirement to finance their children's education and are carrying a housing mortgage they are slaving away to pay back.

It is the same with housing, welfare and medicine. Barring severe illnesses and the need for specialised treatment, a middle-class family is also likely to consult private doctors and visit private hospitals. Meanwhile, low-income households enjoy subsidies in many recreational and social services - but the middle class are likely to pay for private services.

In other words, our social system has little to offer a middle-class wage earner or small-company boss, even as they have to pay the most tax of any class as a proportion of their earnings. No wonder the great Hong Kong middle class is upset.


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