Setting a timetable for eradicating the problem of child poverty
The recently-released Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2020 shows a steady increase in poverty. Among others, there are as many as 270,000 poor children under the age of 18 before policy intervention, and the situation keeps getting worse. A survey by some social group further shows that over 80 per cent of poor children's education and growth are affected because they have to help keep house and take care of families. Poverty in Hong Kong is a structural issue. Even if it cannot be completely eradicated, great importance must be attached to the problems of child poverty and intergenerational poverty. Efforts must devoted to proactively optimise policies and consider setting a detailed timetable to essentially do away with the phenomenon of child poverty.
A poverty line separates the Hong Kong population into two groups, with those people living under the poverty line struggling for survival every day. There are in-work poverty, child poverty, elderly poverty, etc. The government and society must show solicitude for various groups of poor people. From the perspective of social policies, child poverty often leads to intergenerational poverty, which has a far reaching impact on social development and thus demands greater attention.
In reality, Hong Kong's child poverty rate keeps growing. The poverty incidence (PI) reaches as high as 27 per cent, and even after the government's policy intervention it still stands at 8.4 per cent. Although in terms of the absolute number it may not be the highest in years, the problem remains unsolved and a target of criticism for a long period of time.
Taking for example a recent survey by the Society for Communist Organization (SoCO), over 80 per cent of the children interviewed have to help keep house and take care of families. On average each of them spends 10 hours per week on such chores. Nearly half of them have to help cooking while about 10 per cent have to help sell used paper and cardboard. Twenty per cent of the children interviewed suffer problems of insufficient rest and lack of energy and have no time to do homework. Furthermore, nearly one third of the interviewed have no pocket money for outdoor activities. In other words, poverty seriously affects these children and teenagers' education and growing up. As a result, poverty could be easily passed down from one generation to the next.
It is noteworthy that the SAR government has launched a lot of poverty-alleviation and poverty-reduction policies. For instance, the latest Policy Address announces the introduction of the Higher Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), enhancements to the Working Family Allowance (WFA) Scheme, and implementation of a series of measures to improve the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) including substantially increasing the rent allowance and relaxing the eligibility for a range of special grants. Such achievements are there for all to see. With regard to the problem of child poverty, however, the SAR government lacks coordination. For a long period of time, the issue is being dealt with separately by various policy bureaux. There is a lack of coordination, a more pertinent system and handling mechanism.
As a matter of fact, the ratio of poor children from families of single parents, new immigrants and ethnic minorities is far bigger than the ratio of poor children from all families in Hong Kong. The radio of poor children due to living conditions is also the highest in all categories. Having only a fire-extinguishing-like effect, decentralised policies and handling methods are passive and responsive which can hardly touch the root of the problem. Only a systematic and regular system and systematic and regular policies can achieve the purpose of "poverty alleviation with the support of education and a change of attitude".
Establishing the ideal of people-centered development is by no means empty talk. During the National Day period, Luo Huining, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong SAR (the Liaison Office), paid a visit to some households living in sub-divided flats and frankly said his "heart sunk" at the sight of such living conditions. Upon seeing some children living in such sub-divided flats, Deputy Director of the Liaison Office Lu Xinning sighed: "I feel really sorry for these children who have to live and grow in such an environment." The problem of sub-divided flats must be tackled, and the problem of child poverty even more needs to be solved. With the government working out a detailed timetable and optimising the system and policies, with the joint efforts of all sectors in society, a "poverty-free Hong Kong" is bound to be created.
15 November 2021