Leung Chun-ying

Leung needs long-term poverty goals, say experts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2012, 3:27am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been urged to set out long-term goals to tackle poverty rather than hand out "sweeteners", which are welcome but only a temporary solution.

Experts on poverty said even though Leung had fulfilled key election campaign pledges on social welfare, the next step the government needed to take was setting long-term goals.

Law Chi-kwong, a member of the Preparatory Task Force on the Commission on Poverty, said Leung had delivered on his pledges. But there was a lot more he needed to do and many policies to review.

For example, although the enhanced old-age allowance would improve the lives of the elderly, the amount could be higher as the government had huge financial reserves.

In March, Leung pledged to tackle poverty through several initiatives, including re-establishing the Commission on Poverty, which was set up in 2005 to see how to alleviate poverty but scrapped in 2007. Leung set up the seven-member task force to decide the commission's structure and membership.

He also delivered on two other election pledges: doubling the old-age allowance - or "fruit money" - to HK$2,200 a month and health-care vouchers for the elderly to HK$1,000 a year.

The government will soon table these two amendments in Legco for approval.

Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation and a Leung supporter during the election in March, agreed Leung had fulfilled his pledges. He gave his efforts a score of 90 out of 100.

"He sees the problems the city is facing and is doing his best to deal with them."

Ho said Leung had done a better job than his predecessor because former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen only devised short-term policies to tackle poverty.

In contrast, the task force chaired by Leung planned to define a poverty line to facilitate the drafting of long-term policies, Ho said.

Another expert agreed with Ho. Wong Hung, associate professor of social work at Chinese University, said Leung made the right decision to set out short-term goals such as doubling the old-age allowance, while also not losing sight of long-term targets such as re-establishing the Commission on Poverty.

"After defining the poverty line, the government should then set out goals to reduce the number of people living in poverty by, for example, 25 to 50 per cent."

The wealth gap in Hong Kong, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is now at its widest for the past four decades.

The coefficient - a scale from 0 to 1 on which higher scores indicate greater income inequality - has hit 0.537 based on income data from last year. This means the poor are worse off today than they were five years ago when the Gini coefficient was at 0.533.