Proper compensation

FIFTEEN years ago, Hong Kong regarded itself as a city of sweatshops and street-sleepers. Compensation awards in the courts reflected that perception. Damages were compared with, and set at a level well below, the going rate in the United Kingdom. The resulting payments permitted the recipients to live in conditions considered acceptable only in a society where standards for workers were considerably lower than in Europe.

Times have changed: the guidelines for compensation should change with them. As we report on page three, lawyers for 10-year-old Chu Kam-hing have asked for a significantly higher sum to compensate her for injuries received when she was knocked down by a bus than she would routinely have been offered in the courts in recent years. It is not just a matter of matching inflation.

Hong Kong is a modern, post-industrial society with standards of living, education and life-expectancy higher than in the United Kingdom. But the lack of a comprehensive social security net means the poorest sections of society here are still worse off than they are in the UK, even though some low-paid workers earn more than their British counterparts.

But costs - especially the cost of care - are rising fast. So, rightly, are social expectations. Hong Kong can afford to behave like a civil society and treat its citizens accordingly. It can no longer be considered acceptable to condemn the victims of accidents and their families to a life of abject, grinding poverty.