Motion on “Reforming the Poverty Alleviation Policies and Strategies of Hong Kong” (2022.04.06)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, President. The Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2020 shows that Hong Kong had a poor population of 1.65 million and a poverty rate of 24%, which means a record high of around one in four persons was in poverty. With the Government’s assistance, the size of the poor population decreased to 550 000, which is still an unsatisfactory number. It is necessary for the Government to review the current poverty alleviation policies.

In recent years, Hong Kong has in fact been making more efforts in alleviating poverty such as elderly poverty and working poverty, but the size of the poor population has been hitting new highs again and again. Of course, this is attributable to economic factors and the epidemic. I believe the Government is determined to alleviate poverty and more than willing to put in more resources, but the results are not satisfactory. Frankly speaking, the Government adopts a truly piecemeal approach and lacks comprehensive planning in carrying out the poverty alleviation work in Hong Kong. It also fails to take forward its policies in a targeted and effective manner, and may have implemented them shoddily. Therefore, the results are unsatisfactory despite the tremendous resources put in.

In order to solve this problem, the Government should come up with new ideas. I strongly agree with the concept of “targeted poverty alleviation” put forth in some of the amendments today. “Targeted poverty alleviation” is a new idea proposed by the country in recent years to alleviate poverty. It means focusing on different poverty situations and supporting the poor through targeted identification and targeted assistance. In order to achieve “targeted poverty alleviation”, the country has recruited a large number of committed individuals such as university graduates to travel to the remote parts of the country in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the actual poverty situation in poor regions, and implemented measures to lift people out of poverty. Today, everyone can see for themselves the results of these efforts. I believe the keys to the success of “targeted poverty alleviation” are exercising flexibility, focusing on the actual situation, and implementing targeted and effective measures.

It is certainly true that the situations in the Mainland and Hong Kong are not quite the same, and the Hong Kong Government has all along implemented various targeted measures for different groups in society. Nevertheless, the successful experience of the country is worth our consideration. As a matter of fact, the poor population in Hong Kong mainly consists of elderly persons, single-parent families, persons with disabilities, non-skilled employees, new arrivals and ethnic minorities. Each of these groups has its own special difficulties. If the Government can take a more down-to-earth approach to understand their difficulties before implementing measures correspondingly, it can definitely enhance the effectiveness of its poverty alleviation measures. Of course, it is somewhat difficult for the Government to put this suggestion into practice. However, if the Government agrees with this approach, it should be determined to get it done.

I wish to raise a relevant issue. My office often receives enquiries from members of the public as to how they may apply for welfare benefits. Which departments should they submit an application to? When can they make an application? These questions seem very ordinary, but the public do not know the answers most of the time, especially when some new measures are introduced. In fact, different departments are responsible for different welfare benefits. Besides, a dedicated body may be set up for each “handout” measure, such as the Consumption Voucher Scheme Secretariat. There is indeed fragmentation of responsibilities among different departments in handing out various welfare benefits in Hong Kong.

I understand that the Government adopts this approach due to administrative needs, or this has something to do with allocation of resources. But if we view the matter from the perspective of the public, how can they understand which department is doing what? In particular, such applicants are disadvantaged persons with a low education level. Perhaps they do not have the slightest idea of how to seek help, or how to seek assistance from social workers. Even if the Government provides one-stop enquiry service, members of the public not only find it difficult for the call to get through, but very often cannot get the answer to their question in the end. As a result, people who need such services have to spend lots of time looking here and there for information. They feel discontented even if their applications are successful in the end.

Therefore, may the Government examine standardizing and streamlining the application methods for various subsidies, assistance and services? Of course, I understand it is difficult to accomplish, but it may at least examine setting up an all-in-one welfare enquiry centre or liaison centre to provide a specific enquiry channel for those in need. While considerably strengthening its poverty alleviation efforts, the Government also has to enhance the quality of its services.

Thank you, President.

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