'Little done to encourage Hong Kong's young to be upwardly mobile'
Critics of the government say it lacks long-term plan for social policies and still leans towards actions that favour the rich and developers
While the government has offered some financial relief for the city's poorest and the elderly, critics say not enough is being done to help young people or to solve long-standing housing problems.
"Ultimately, it's the government's attitude that counts - they have to show that they sincerely care for people's well-being," said Nelson Chow Wing-sun, professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong.
Chow said little had been done to encourage upward mobility, especially in helping young people and diversifying the job market.
And Ho Hei-wah, head of the Society for Community Organisation, agreed.
"The middle and working classes - especially low-skill workers - have seen little improvement in their lives," he said.
Ho added that support for children and the elderly was in the pipeline, but said the government lacked a long-term plan when it came to social policies.
"Some things can't be solved with subsidies. Like support for the disabled or special-needs children - it takes resource planning, including training the necessary professionals," Ho said. "The social work sector has been pushing for a five-year plan for social policies, but the government isn't listening."
But Chow praised recent measures introduced to help the elderly, saying the HK$2 bus and MTR fares and the HK$2,200 Old Age Living Allowance were making a big difference.
"The effects of these policies are obvious," Chow said. "Now, at 3 to 4pm, places like Maxim's [fast-food chain] have become a playground for the elderly. People who couldn't afford to travel before can now leave their homes and maybe even afford afternoon tea occasionally."
But he was disappointed by the lack of progress on housing, with many of the city's poorest trying to scrape together rents and tolerating appalling living conditions as they wait for public housing.
"Some of the government's actions this year have shown that they are still leaning towards policies which favour the rich and the developers," said Chow.
He gave the example of two sites in Tin Shui Wai. The plots had been designated as flats for the elderly, but the plan was scrapped and they will now be auctioned to developers.
David Wong Yau-kar, chairman of the Land and Development Advisory Committee, agreed housing was a priority.
"The government needs to make some big and drastic measures," Wong said. "In the past 10 years, the government stopped building [Home Ownership Scheme flats], and did not plan its land bank. Since then we've seen this turn into a huge problem." But Wong, who also heads the societal engagement task force - part of the Commission on Poverty - said the government was serious about easing poverty. "This year, a poverty commission was set up - this is a big step," he said.
Yesterday, 13 groups including the League of Social Democrats joined the Labour Party in calling on the government to introduce subsidies of about HK$1,000 a month for low-income families. Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said that were the government to introduce a less-generous subsidy, or exclude some groups, he may resort to filibustering in the Legislative Council.