Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam failing on youth poverty, says children’s group
- Government gets 23 out of 100 for its record on improving lives of the young and needy
- Children’s Rights Association calls for free breakfasts and lunches for poor pupils, and rent subsidies for people in subdivided flats, among other things
Hong Kong’s leader has failed miserably to improve the lives of the city’s poor children this year, a community youth group said on Sunday, giving the government just 23 points out of 100 in that area.
The score for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration was two points worse than last year’s 25, but still better than the 15 points the government got in 2016 and only the eight points of 2015. In 2009, when Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was the city’s leader, the score was zero.
The score was given by the 2,800 members of the Children’s Rights Association, under the Society for Community Organisation, a group dedicated to helping poor families. The members were mostly aged six to 18.
“Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she has placed the problem of housing as her top priority,” said Leung Cheuk-ki, 16 and a “children’s ombudsman” for the association. “But rent has been going up and the average waiting time for public housing is 5½ years.”
Leung and her family of four lived in a 200 sq ft subdivided flat for many years before they got a public flat several years ago.
“Back then, I didn’t have my own room. I had to study and do my homework at the dining table. When my parents had to sleep, I could not do my homework any more because that would bother them,” she recalled.
Leung’s case is certainly not isolated.
Last month, the government announced that a record of nearly 1.38 million of the city’s 7.4 million people lived below the poverty line, which is set at 50 per cent of median monthly household income before tax and any benefits.
In real terms that sets the bar at a monthly income of HK$4,000 (US$510) for a single person, HK$9,800 for two people and HK$15,000 for a three-person household.
The child poverty rate stood at 23.1 per cent.
Other problems facing families in poverty include difficulties paying for extracurricular activities. Take 10-year-old Kelly Lee Wai-yi, who wanted to learn drawing but whose family just could not afford it.
“An NGO subsidised me to learn drawing for three months. But that was it, after the three months,” she said.
The association also called for free breakfasts and lunches for needy children at school; rent subsidies for people in bad environments such as subdivided flats; an increase in cash subsidies; and exemptions for poor children from paying for extracurricular activities.
They also wanted laws to protect recent mainland Chinese immigrants from discrimination.
In a blog on Sunday, labour and welfare minister Dr Law Chi-kwong said he expected “double-digit” growth in spending on some social welfare policies. Details would be announced in the upcoming budget, to be delivered by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, he said.
Law added that there could be new social welfare policies announced.
Summarising his bureau’s work this year, Law cited the establishment of the Commission on Children, led by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, and the creation of 1,200 positions for social workers, as progress.