THE 2013-14 BUDGET

Boost to Community Care Fund no real relief, says struggling mum

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 11:49pm

A HK$15 billion boost to the Community Care Fund brought little cheer to the working poor who don't receive government assistance - people like Chen Shao-chong.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the extra money would help close holes in the safety net for the poor.

"I believe that the Commission on Poverty will make effective use of this injection to renew its efforts to alleviate poverty by plugging the gaps in the existing system, and continue to implement and enhance those programmes that have proved to be effective but have yet to be incorporated into the government's regular assistance and service programmes," Tsang said.

But Chen, 47,who works at a construction site to feed her two teenage sons and a sick husband, said she was disappointed by a lack of long-term measures to lift them out of poverty.

"Budget sweeteners no real relief to the working poor", Video by Hedy Bok

"I think this year is the same as the last, only with even less money being given out … I'm disappointed," she said.

I think this year is the same as the last, only with even less money being given out … I'm disappointed

But Tsang warned against welfarism, citing the possible collapse of Europe's welfare states.

Chen's family, who earns a maximum of HK$10,000 a month, will not benefit from most of the poverty alleviation measures, as they do not receive welfare or pay tax.

After a long wait, they hope to move into a public flat at Kai Tak in July so will not benefit from the two-month rent exemption for public housing tenants.

Their plight will not be alleviated despite a 30.5 per cent boost in social welfare spending to HK$55.7 billion in the 2013-14 financial year.

Tsang said the injection into the Community Care Fund could provide resources for the Commission on Poverty to roll out measures for low-income households and the working poor.

Chen acknowledged that her family would probably get help from the fund, but said she still wished there were more systematic policies for the working poor.

"The government should start planning for a universal pension this year and not wait any longer," she added.

The fund, which was set up in 2011 with HK$5 billion from the government, was intended to have a matching contribution from the private sector, but pledges so far have reached only HK$1.8 billion.

The 18 projects launched under the fund so far will cost about HK$1.5 billion, and it has paid out about HK$700 million.

"Wealth redistribution seems to be a quick fix to improve the livelihood of the grass roots," Tsang said. "But the lesson in Europe in recent years tells us that welfarism is not sustainable."

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who chairs the Commission on Poverty, insisted the working poor "have not been left out".

Dr Law Chi-kwong, chairman of the Community Care Fund Task Force said there was no plan to launch a new drive for donations from business. To help more people in need, it would consider broadening its definition of "inadequately housed" so more residents in subdivided flats benefit from subsidies.