• Thu
  • Jul 24, 2014
  • Updated: 9:14am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 12:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 12:43am

If you're middle class, the annual Policy Address ritual is not for you

It's that time of year when many of my colleagues go into spasms of ecstasy and excitement because they get to report on something sacred called The Policy Address.

I confess I used to be one of them but over the years, as the annual ritual systemically degenerates both in terms of the quality of policy formulation and visions and ideas shared, the speech in the Legislative Council and the document released afterwards become little more than inducements to sleep. The latest address has not reversed the trend.

If there is one positive thing you can say about Leung Chun-ying's second address, it's that it's honest: no pretence of any grand plan, none of "that vision thing". That's because it has precious little to offer. Well, there is that land supply thing: 470 000 units over the next 10 years. But we already know that from last year, and over 60 per cent will be in public housing.

So, if you are middle class or above, you may as well forget about getting a copy of the document. There is nothing in it for you: no tax cuts, tax incentives or tax-deductibles in health care or education. Nothing, zero! Well, if you have very young children, you get an extra HK$2,500 a year in pre-school or kindergarten vouchers. But if they are older, well, you are on your own.

The big fanfare from Leung and Co. is that if you are poor, you are in for all sorts of goodies. We should always do more for the poor and low-income families, so I am not objecting in principle, only questioning their effectiveness. The HK$3 billion boost will put a few hundred dollars to HK$2,000-plus into the pockets of 700,000 people from low-income households.

There is a groundbreaking scheme to help children from ethnic minorities master Chinese as a second language to improve their chances of university admission and employment. But whatever dollar sign the government puts on a poverty relief programme, you can be sure a truly effective scheme would cost a lot more.

On a positive note, the first highlight - I am not making this up - in the address' health care section is a new subsidy for "colorectal cancer screening for higher risk groups". You get a subsidised probe up your posterior. Never say Leung is not taking care of you.

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impala
Few of the status-conscious my-toddler-is-destined-for-Harvard Hong Kong middle class would send their dearest offspring to one of the kindergartens that participate in the voucher scheme. The (perceived) top private kindergartens of course are not happy to submit themselves to the EDB's minimal oversight criteria for the scheme, so they don't participate. And why should they, since they will continue to be able to find plenty of parents among the middle class willing to pay 60~100k a year in tuition fees for the privilege of attending

This is arguably only the top 20% or so, so perhaps not strictly speaking middle class, but the point remains that even the kindergarten voucher scheme is an income-dependent bandaid for the bleeding wound that is our gridlocked education system.

Mr Lo is right. Like virtually all of the (welfare) measures in this and previous policy addresses, there is no vision to overhaul the increasingly two-tier have-nots-vs-haves system and create a more cohesive, egalitarian (harmonious if you must) and just society. The point is to keep the underlying exploitative (class if you wish) inequality intact, preserve the governing/business elites' privileges while meanwhile give the poor just enough so that they don't starve to death spontaneously and/or stage a revolt by Occupying Central. But of course never quite enough that they would gain some actual social mobility and upset the powers that be.

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