Working poor have to jump through hoops to get allowance, Hong Kong survey finds

Study conducted by Chinese University highlights reasons why working poor are being put off applying for low-income family allowance

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 11:11pm

The city’s working poor are shunning a new allowance scheme to subsidise low-income families as they have to jump through too many hoops to qualify, according to a study commissioned by the government’s Central Policy Unit.

“The city’s poor have been facing too much of a burden. They even have to provide residential proof when they apply for the allowance.How is that relevant? Does it matter whether the applicant lives in public housing or a rented flat?” said Wong Hung, associate professor in the department of social work at Chinese University .

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A total of 840 working families were surveyed by phone and 385 in person for the study. Those contacted in person had income that was ­below 75 per cent of the city’s ­median household income.

Only 6.8 per cent and 58 per cent of the two groups were qualified for the allowance scheme respectively.

Wong suggested that the number of working hours required to qualify should be cut in half to 36 and 72 hours for single and non-single-parent families respectively.

He also recommended lowering the upper limit for monthly family income and total assets.

Introduced in May last year, the scheme is an initiative designed to encourage self-reliance among the underprivileged, as opposed to providing a full subsidy like Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

Under the scheme, eligible families are entitled to a monthly allowance of between HK$300 and HK$1,000, with an additional HK$400 or HK$800 given for each child in the household.

The government expected the scheme to benefit 200,000 low-income working families comprising 700,000 people, including 170,000 children or dependent youngsters. But official figures show only around 48,000 applications had been approved as of February.

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Applicants are required to submit six different kinds of proof such as for all family members, working hours and family income and assets, according to Wong.

“Some new immigrants from the mainland cannot use traditional Chinese characters, while others find it extremely difficult to calculate their working hours,” Wong said.

A lack of help from government staff was also listed among factors deterring some underprivileged households from applying, according to the survey.

A 37-year-old part-time food recycler polled in the survey was quoted as saying she felt she was “not respected” by the staff dealing with her application, which prompted her to give up.

“I felt quite uncomfortable and upset after being treated like a beggar,” she said.

The office handling the allowance did not reply to Post questions on the issue.