‘Totally unacceptable’: Hong Kong social welfare sector hits out at decision to halt one-off living allowance

Lawmaker-elect says there is no reasonto scrap the allowance now as the living standard of low-income people should be protected

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 7:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 10:46pm

The social welfare sector has criticised the decision by a government body to end a one-off living allowance for the city’s neediest group – dubbed the “N-nothings”.

The term refers to a specific group of low-income people who do not own property, do not live in public rental housing and do not receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

A total of 59,000 households comprising around 143,000 people had benefited from the scheme as of August 12, receiving a total of HK$512 million.

The angry reaction from the social welfare sector came a day after Community Care Fund Task Force chairman Dr Law Chi-kwong told the media that the allowance offered by the public-private fund had been suspended because the original reason for establishing it had disappeared.

He was referring to the removal of waivers for public housing rents in this year’s budget. The one-off allowance was originally intended to fill the gap in helping the N-nothings, who did not benefit from budget sweeteners.

The fund and the Commission on Poverty both agreed with the decision, Law said.

But Shiu Ka-chun, the lawmaker-elect representing the social work sector, was unconvinced by the move.

“This is totally unacceptable,” he said on Monday. “There is no reason to scrap the allowance right now … The living standard of low-income people should be protected.”

His views were echoed by Sze Lai-shan from the Society for Community Organisation, who said she did not see a reason to halt the allowance for N-nothings.

She said non-public housing residents who were not in the government welfare net had extra needs.

They’ve been paying double in rent compared to public-housing residents for the same living areas. And the queue of public housing applicants has not shortened, while the rents for private and subdivided flats are jumping non-stop,” Sze said.

The living allowance was launched in 2014. This year, an eligible single person was offered a one-off sum of about HK$4,000. Households comprising two and five people received HK$8,000 and HK$14,000 respectively.

The latest launch of the one-off living subsidy closed on August 31. However, the allowance will not be available until next year.

Outgoing social work lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che, a member of the Community Care Fund and the Commission on Poverty, said it was logical to scrap the one-off allowance because the fund’s original intention was to help those who did not benefit from government protection.

But Cheung said the fund was looking into alternatives to help the N-nothings, such as teaming up with the “Light Be” project, which rented apartments from various landlords for subleasing to the less privileged at affordable rents.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on Sunday that eligible households could apply for the low-income working family allowance, which was launched earlier this year. And he said single people could still apply for the work incentive transport subsidy.