CY Leung policy address 2014

For one working poor family, new subsidies don't go far enough

Speech leaves no doubt on Leung's priorities, but relief package for poor fails to impress one mother, and expert says it lacks cohesion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 2:56pm

The advance spin made it abundantly clear - Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address would focus heavily on the growing problem of poverty.

It certainly delivered in terms of time spent on the subject - almost half of the two-hour speech was devoted to the issue - and his blueprint wasn't short on concrete measures to help those most in need.

But one of the 710,000 people in line to benefit, mother-of-two Du Runxing, was left underwhelmed by the headline HK$3 billion subsidy for poor working class families. She described what will amount to a HK$2,600-a-month financial boost to her family of four as "better than nothing".

"We can only use it to pay for our children's extracurricular activities and buy more food. But that is it. The amount should be HK$4,000," she said, after watching the speech on television in her family's subdivided 100 sq ft Sham Shui Po flat.

Du, 39, who moved to Hong Kong from Zhaoqing in Guangdong three years ago, lives with her husband and two children and sleeps on the floor with one of the children. She said her husband made HK$10,000 a month as a security guard and they had been in the queue for public housing since 2009.

Du said she wanted to get a job and make their life more comfortable. But she couldn't as she had to care for the children.

Improvements to child care services announced yesterday may not be enough for every mother in need either.

"If I was given a second chance, I would have stayed on the mainland," Du said. "I can make several thousand renminbi there. I also have a bigger house and land I can farm."

Watch:How a sub-divided flat dweller reacts to CY Leung's 2014 policy address


Critics welcomed the individual initiatives but said the plan lacked the cohesion needed to tackle the systemic nature of poverty in the city. Crucially, they say, it lacked a target by which to measure the success of the initiatives.

On top of the HK$3 billion subsidy - widely leaked beforehand - was a package of elderly care policies, extending a HK$2 transport concession to green minibus lines and including seven Community Care Fund programmes in the government's bag of recurrent social welfare schemes.

While the subsidies and concessions will help the poor now, they fall short of a long-term plan, according to Nelson Chow Wing-sun, professor in social work at University of Hong Kong.

"There is no comprehensive plan for social policies, which is necessary given that the problem of poverty is created by the system," he said.

The various policy proposals - like providing more health vouchers for the elderly and vouchers for pre-school, and adding rehabilitation services for the disabled - were only scattered enhancements, he said.

"Especially for children and the elderly, there needs to be integrated and long-term planning," Chow said. "Without it, we can't set up a financial plan."

But he welcomed the policy to help the working poor.

The Low-Income Working Family Allowance, to start in 2015, aims to pull families living below the poverty line - but not on welfare - above it, and to prevent those on the brink from falling below it. To be eligible, families need to comprise at least two people, one of whom works at least 144 hours a month.

Depending on the hours they work, families whose income falls below the poverty line of 50 per cent of median household income (HK$22,500) will receive either HK$600 or HK$1,000 a month, plus HK$400 or HK$800 a month for each dependent child. New immigrants are eligible.