Children in need deserve more

WE are a group of parents with families receiving public assistance, and we welcomed the article headlined, ''Children's poverty neglected'' in the South China Morning Post, of July 19.

We are grateful that the article drew attention to the plight of our children. However, we feel the report headlined, ''New scheme gives relief to single-parent families'', needs clarification.

Even under the revised Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme effective from July 1, which brought about an increase of the cash allowance by HK$150 for each child on public assistance, our children are still living under unreasonable hardship.

The oft quoted figure of an increase of $375 by the authorities shows that they are playing a numbers game, because this included the child supplement of $225 that had always been granted to children on public assistance before this new scheme.

It is true that the supplement for expenses related to schooling, so that textbooks and travelling expenses could be reimbursed under the scheme, but activities that a child is reasonably expected to do, such as extra-curricular activities, fall into thegrey zone. The scheme has discouraged our children from participating in youth activities like, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, as such expenditure was rejected by the Social Security Field Units. It seems hypocritical for the Government to spend millions of dollars in the organising of summer programmes for young people and in the running of the youth centres, yet our children need to face the frustration and humiliation of being rejected, or begging for reimbursement for these grey zone items.

Under the revised Comprehensive Social Security Scheme, a child in a family on public assistance receives $995, and this is $550 less than a single elderly person on public assistance. Children have special needs that cannot be accurately measured. They need toys, pocket money, and the opportunity to visit and play with peers. All this costs money and yet it is extremely difficult for a family on public assistance, just to provide children with the bare necessities, such as food and clothing. Can you believe that socks are luxuries for our children which are excluded from the granted list. Often our children get no meat or fish, because it is too expensive. The Government is being unfair.

It has been shown in a special study on children that the monthly cost for food for a seven-year-old, when the family can only spend the bare minimum, is calculated at $780. We are mothers, we know that younger children require more (food for infants is extremely expensive), and adolescents eat considerably more. But our children who are studying in secondary schools receive $7.70 as meal allowance per day.

We are not trying to undermine society's respect for the elderly. We have a duty towards them. This affluent society owes them a debt of gratitude for the precious years they gave to make our lives better. However, we must pay attention to the welfare ofchildren. The future of this world rests with them. They must be given due attention and care. The children have no vote; they have no voice or power, but they must be helped.

Hong Kong must care for its children. We want to see the child supplement increased to $510 per month and we ask that they be given adequate financial subsidies so they can participate in youth activities, just like the children whose parents can afford to pay.