Officials' anti-poverty policies misguided

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 12:26am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, when talking about alleviating poverty in Hong Kong, has said the solution to the problem is to increase the income of poor people.

This indicates that the government is either failing to understand the nature of poverty in the SAR or lacks the determination to tackle the greed of the business sector.

Officials have consistently tried to alleviate poverty by increasing the incomes of poor people. It has put in place a transport subsidy scheme to increase the disposable income of working citizens. It has also enhanced the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme in an effort to aid the unemployed, and has set up food banks to ease the plight of the needy. But despite all these measures, poverty in our city has worsened. It has kept growing despite measures to alleviate it, not because those measures are inadequate, but because the administration is moving in the wrong direction. Hong Kong's poverty problem lies in the inadequacies of its wealth distribution system.

For too long, governments here have pursued policies that aid businesses, not citizens.

Officials have cut taxes to attract foreign investment and minimised market regulation to enable companies to generate wealth unhindered. The government has adopted these policies with the best of intentions. When businesses grow, society grows; and when businesses make wealth, it should trickle down the social ladder so that everyone can benefit. The reality is, however, wealth does not trickle down.

Instead, it is concentrated in the hands of big businesses. Because wealth is not being distributed fairly in society, poverty has grown and has caused deep-rooted social contradictions.

The administration cannot alleviate poverty without tackling the source of the problem. For wealth to be distributed fairly, social and economic policies must change to ensure equal opportunities for everyone.

Hong Kong now has a minimum wage. The law will increase the income of poor people, but it can hardly narrow the poverty gap because it does not result in a fairer wealth distribution system that ensures everyone has equal opportunities to move up.

Denying the need to narrow the poverty gap means that the government is still turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of the wealth distribution system. It has yet to decide to tackle the greed of the business sector.

This will reinforce the public perception of government-business collaboration.

John Lee, Tuen Mun