The government is studying how people can overcome the stigma they experience by claiming social security allowances, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday.
A day after the government announced an official poverty line for Hong Kong, Lam suggested on the Beautiful Sunday radio programme that a neutral "one-stop" organisation could means-test and distribute allowances to those on low incomes who did not apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance because "they want to be self-reliant" and avoid being labelled or stigmatised.
Lam, who is chairwoman of the Commission on Poverty, writes in an article today in the South China Morning Post that the best way to lift people out of poverty is to create jobs.
The government announced on Saturday that the official poverty line was set at half of the city's median household income, meaning that the 1.31 million people in the city below it were officially poor.
A person living alone and earning less than HK$3,600 a month would fall below the poverty line under 2012 statistics.
Lam said she was aware that many low-income families qualified to receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance but did not apply for it as they wished to be self-reliant or were afraid of being labelled or discriminated against for taking benefits.
"We will carry out a consultancy study to see if there is a way we can find a more neutral organisation to distribute different government allowances, especially those requiring a means test," she said, without explaining what she meant by "neutral organisation".
Social welfare-sector lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che supported the idea, saying it would minimise stigmatisation and also increase efficiency as applicants for different allowances would only have to visit one place to submit application forms.
Commenting on what "neutral organisation" should distribute these allowances, Cheung said it was difficult for non-governmental organisations to assist as the workload would be huge. He suggested a government body should carry out the work.
Lam also said that the commission was designing the details of measures aimed at helping the working poor, especially those with children.
Lam wrote in her article: "We should continue to grow our economy and create employment opportunities, particularly quality jobs to help the upward mobility of young people."
Separately Wong Hung, a professor of social work and welfare at Chinese University, said poverty alleviation was more about restructuring the economy to provide better and more diverse types of jobs.
While the reasons for poverty could be complex, "making work pay" was an important part of poverty alleviation, Wong said.
Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung doubted if Lam's suggestions would eradicate the stigma.
"The stigma is there as long as applicants need to hand in a form," he said.