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中英社评/制定时间表消除儿童贫穷问题

2021-11-29 04:27:10大公报
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  《2020年香港贫穷情况报告》日前发表,贫穷人口不断上升,当中儿童贫穷人口在政策介入前多达27万多人,情况在恶化。有社区团体调查更发现,逾八成贫穷儿童因照顾家庭影响学习成长。香港的贫穷问题是结构性问题,纵然不可能全部消除,但儿童贫穷及跨代贫穷问题必须得到高度重视,应积极完善政策,研究制定具体时间表,以基本消除儿童贫穷现象。

  一条贫穷线,将香港人口分成两组,在贫穷线下的人群每天都在挣扎中度过。在职贫穷、儿童贫穷、长者贫穷等等,不同贫穷群体都需要政府和社会的关注。从社会政策的角度,儿童贫穷往往导致跨代贫穷,对整个社会发展的影响也更为深远,需要更多的重视。

  现实是,香港儿童贫穷人口不断增加,贫穷发生率高达27%,即便是政府政策介入之后,也达到8.4%。尽管从绝对数目来看未必是历年最高的,但问题长期没有得到解决,贫穷问题多年来为人诟病。

  以香港社区组织协会早前进行的调查为例,逾八成受访贫穷儿童需做家务、照顾家庭,每星期照顾家庭的时间平均为10小时,当中近半要帮忙煮饭,另有近一成儿童需参与卖废纸、纸皮。有两成受访儿童出现休息、精神不足问题,没时间做功课,更有近33%受访儿童没有余钱外出活动。也就是说,贫穷问题严重影响到儿童及青少年的学习成长,容易导致上一代贫穷延续到下一代身上。

  应当看到,特区政府为扶贫减贫推出了大量政策,例如新一份施政报告中推出高额长者生活津贴、优化在职家庭津贴计划、落实一系列改善综合社会保障援助措施,包括大幅增加租金津贴及放宽多项特别津贴资格等等,成效有目共睹。但关于儿童贫穷问题,特区政府各自为政,长期以来分散在不同的政策部门,缺乏统筹性、更具针对性的制度与处理机制。

  实际上,单亲家庭、新移民家庭及少数族裔家庭的贫穷儿童比例,与全港家庭贫穷儿童比例的差距更大;而因居住条件问题导致的贫穷儿童比例,也是所有类别中最高的。靠分散的政策与处理方式,只能起到“灭火式”作用,是被动式、应对式,难以触及问题根本。只有系统性、恒常性的制度与政策,才能起到“扶贫、扶智、扶志”的目的。

  树立“以人民为中心”的发展理念,并不是一句空话。今年国庆节期间,中联办主任骆惠宁落区看望㓥房户,直言“心情十分沉重”;卢新宁副主任探望㓥房里的儿童时,感叹:“让孩子们在这样的环境下生活长大,实在太对不起他们了。”要完全消灭贫穷问题并不容易,但基本上消除儿童贫穷现象是完全做得到的。㓥房问题要解决,儿童贫穷更须解决。制定具体时间表,完善制度与政策,社会各界共同努力,一定可以创造一个“无穷香港”。

  2021-11-15

  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

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