Adopt holistic approach when tackling poverty in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 9:21pm

US President Barack Obama once said that if “poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community”.

In response to the article, “Why impoverished young Hongkongers are deprived of more than food” (December 19), I wholeheartedly agree that the problem of poverty in Hong Kong today is not just an issue of financial exclusion but one of social exclusion.

Often, the most debilitating impact of poverty is not just the financial struggles to make ends meet but the wider psychological and social implications that affect longer-term social mobility and community solidarity.

For one, research has shown that families trapped in poverty have much less mind-space to deal with longer-term realities and that students from families below the poverty line have much fewer education opportunities compared to other peers that cumulatively results in a wide gap over time.

Yet poverty policy measures like the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme have singularly focused on just providing financial subsidies, with no attention given to additional social intervention such as extra educational opportunities or support for single-parent families.

It is my contention that the poverty policy in Hong Kong would benefit from focusing more on community healing rather than stopgap measures.

Having worked on district community projects with various non-profit organisations in the past, the most effective poverty alleviation programmes are the ones that address poverty holistically, such as providing support for students to attend free academic tutoring or extracurricular activities in community centres and the engagement of parents in family-education projects.

More importantly, the government should leverage and better support the existing work done by district councils or community organisations and perhaps even use those platforms as policy test beds with the goal of designing longer-term policies.

At its heart, poverty alleviation should not just be about lifting families out of poverty but actively reimagining what a fair society should be and how our communities can play a role in creating that hope for each and every child and family.

Alexander Chan, Beijing