CY Leung's policy address deserves praise for thoughtful anti-poverty measures
Bernard Chan says for some critics, the government can never do right
After reading and listening to various responses to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address last week, I am convinced some people are impossible to please. I am not talking about those who say the middle class or small business should get more, or who are impatient for solutions to big problems like housing or pollution. To some extent, these people have a point.
I am thinking of media outlets and groups that say they want something, but still criticise when they get it. For example, some environmental groups accept that the government needs to find more land to meet long-term housing needs. But every time the administration comes up with a proposal - use of the New Territories, reclamation or increases in density - they say it is unacceptable.
Some media outlets have a track record of attacking past governments for lack of action against poverty, especially for relying on one-off handouts and short-term subsidies. Last week's policy address represented a real shift away from this approach, particularly in establishing a system to help low-income working families. But, amazingly, the same media voices are still critical.
They accuse this government of being reckless by increasing recurrent spending on welfare. One newspaper that usually argues against inequality accused the government of "bribing voters" for proposing scholarships to help needy students study overseas. It seems that some people just want the government to be wrong, whatever it does.
Fortunately, some groups give credit where it is due. This year, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which I chair, has voiced support for several of the administration's plans to assist the underprivileged. In fact, the council recommended most of these measures in part or in full, and the administration adopted the ideas.
The one that received the most publicity is the HK$3-billion-a-year plan for a low-income working families' allowance. It is easy to say that this measure is insufficient, but it is a major step forward in establishing a practical system to give over 700,000 people - especially those with children - a helping hand. This new system could point the way for future reforms in welfare generally.
Another important area is elderly care. The government announced a range of measures to increase assistance for the elderly in primary, preventive and long-term care. It is also planning various ways to increase the capacity of residential, day and home care services. Again, although people can argue about the details, the policy address shows that the administration is taking this vital issue seriously.
The administration announced an increase of HK$470 million for social service agencies to expand their capacity to deliver help and care to the disadvantaged. The Council of Social Service recommended a larger sum, but at least the government accepted the principle that more resources are needed.
The policy address included a proposal to commit resources to help welfare organisations make better use of the property they own through renovation or redevelopment. This is estimated to create some 17,000 additional places for the elderly and the disabled.
The government also announced measures to enhance Chinese-language learning for ethnic minority students, which would go some way to meeting requests going back many years, and more resources for youth groups, including extra provision to enable poorer children to take part in such activities - a specific recommendation of youth groups.
In short, the chief executive has made good on some of his campaign promises. Maybe the government can and should do more, but let's give the policy address praise where it is due.
Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council