Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah concluded his budget speech with, "Believe in opportunity, not fate". The government has provided an additional HK$20 billion in sweeteners to the community. That is no small amount, but the impact will be small and diluted as it is going to filter through to all segments of the community.
It would be more effective if the support could be more focused and not granted only as short-term measures.
Providing opportunities for all is much better than giving out sweeteners, and also more sustainable.
However, the challenge for the community today is not whether we believe in opportunity. The subtle question is: are there any opportunities? What are the chances that a university graduate will be able to save up enough money to buy a home in 10 to 20 years? The situation is even more pessimistic for a non-graduate. If opportunity does not exist, it is irrelevant to talk about believing in it.
Our researchers have conducted a cyber-youth study that aims to help vulnerable teens who spend long hours on the internet. Some of those teens in our focus group simply want to kill time and relieve boredom through web surfing. They do not wish to accept their fate, but do they have a better choice?
The government should be more proactive in creating opportunities, especially for the young. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying emphasised empowering young people in his policy address, and we would like to see the financial secretary allocate sufficient resources towards achieving the goals.
Tsang also referred to estimates reached by a working group on long-term fiscal planning. If expenditure outpaced revenue, we would face a deficit sooner or later. But the projections would be realised only if we allowed them to happen. It is the government's duty to navigate the community out of troubled waters. The budget needs to provide a road map to prepare the city better for future challenges.
It is exactly why we need to invest in education, training and health. The money we spend on education and skills training today can increase tax revenue tomorrow. Improving the health of the community will reduce health expenditure and help people live longer and healthier. All these investments can enhance our capacity and eventually offset expenditure.
There are also opportunities to be created to encourage exercise, by setting aside more space to work out. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department should try harder in providing more facilities for the whole community to relax.
It must also make facilities affordable. Schools can be a good source of exercise space for communities at weekends. The environment is also conducive to making the community healthier and better connected.
For the young, we need to create opportunities to develop skills. There is an acute shortage of skilled workers in construction and elderly care. Can we make jobs in these sectors more attractive to our workforce? We need to broaden our industry spectrum to provide opportunities for people with various skills.
The city needs more focused action. We hope the government will demonstrate its vision, commitment and wisdom to make Hong Kong more liveable for everyone. Believing in opportunities without putting in resources to create them is an exercise in futility.
Professor Yip is director of the centre for suicide research and prevention and a professor at the department of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong