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Investing in a healthy Hong Kong can cut welfare costs for the city

There is a need to create job opportunities to cut the number of people living in poverty

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 10:04pm

At a mental health conference held in Cairns last week, one of the topics was healthy body and healthy mind.

It is so important to invest in a healthy body, which is strongly related to a healthy mind. It is not rocket science to achieve a healthy body, namely through a balanced diet, regular exercise and good social support.

The benefits are phenomenal. We don’t need to eat expensively but nutritiously enough to keep us well. Doing more exercise has been shown to be good for everyone. Exercise builds muscle and bone strength, increases cardiovascular health, decreases stress and improves quality of sleep. It generates endorphins, which spread positive feelings throughout the body.

Furthermore a work-life balance is beneficial to everyone. If the government can invest more in leisure and cultural activities and make them more accessible to the community, we would become happier and healthier, meaning health costs can subsequently be reduced. We invest in our health to save our wealth.

The government plans to spend HK$66.2 billion on welfare in 2016-17 – up from HK$42.8 billion in 2012-13, an increase of 54.7 per cent. Welfare’s proportion of total government expenditure is rising from 16.3 per cent to 19 per cent in that period.

However, the continual increase in poverty among the working poor and our young people is of concern. Despite many government budget surpluses, have we made any strategic investments in our human capital, skills and training, which can lead to savings in welfare expenditure?

The government seems to save some money by outsourcing its work but spends considerable amounts on subsidies for low-income earners.

Land revenue has become a major item of government income, but there is not enough land to meet housing needs. We have not invested enough in research and development to seize opportunities and optimise productivity.

Investing in a smart and healthy city should help reduce waiting times for transport, banking, medical and health services among many others. Some bus companies already upload timetables in real time so passengers do not have to wait so long.

The government needs to adopt a customer-oriented approach.Building a smart and healthy city requires a government commitment to resources and leadership. There is no point in saving money now and becoming poor in the future. We invest to save.

Investment in our human capital and infrastructure should bring Hong Kong to new heights. The investment can save much and create wealth in the community.

If our professional service sectors can respond strategically to emerging opportunities, society will grow. Our studies show that the poverty rate is related to a higher suicide rate and low satisfaction with life.

There is no gain in dishing out welfare payments without creating job opportunities offering respectable wages for the unemployed. Let’s form a TEAM for Hong Kong (Together Everyone Achieves More).

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong