27 FEB 2013
Short-term relief in new budget neglects the real needs of low-income peopleOxfam calls for long-term fiscal blueprint for poverty alleviation
In the Budget Speech today, Financial Secretary John Tsang announced that the HKSAR Government has recorded a budget surplus of $64.9 billion, yet the poverty alleviation measures proposed in the budget are only short-term “fiscal relief policies” aiming to ease the pressure of spending down the reserves, including an injection of $1.5 billion into the Community Care Fund and providing an extra one-month allowance to the recipients of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), Old Age Allowance, Disability Allowance and Old Age Living Allowance. Oxfam agrees with the Government’s policy direction of caring for poor people, yet we are disappointed that the budget fails to address the core social problems that concern low-income people most, namely housing and working poverty issues. Neither has it introduced a long-term fiscal blueprint for narrowing the wealth gap and tackling poverty issues.
Stephen Fisher, Director General of Oxfam Hong Kong, welcomes the Government’s decision to take his earlier suggestion of providing an extra one-month allowance to the recipients of Old Age Living Allowance, but believes more could have been done.
“The Government should have utilised its ample financial resources more efficiently and taken up a more active role in implementing long-term policies to help people out of poverty. In the just released budget, I do not see any commitment towards long-term poverty reduction,” Fisher said.
Efficient use of the Community Care Fund
Regarding the injection of a huge amount of money into the Community Care Fund, Oxfam suggests using the Fund on those pilot projects approved by the Commission on Poverty in the future. In the past, the Community Care Fund usually supports one-off short-term schemes, but Oxfam believes the Government should systematically design a long-term direction and blueprint for poverty alleviation and convert those pilot projects with promising results to regular ones, thus enabling continued support for poor people.
“Low-Income Family Subsidy” should not wait
In the Policy Address announced last month, the Government proposed to study the feasibility of a “Low-Income Family Subsidy” to tackle the problem of employment poverty. However, no corresponding fiscal planning can be found in the budget announced today. In our report titled “The Feasibility Study of Low-Income Working Family Subsidy” published last June, we proposed to enhance the current “Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme” into a “Low-Income Working Family Subsidy”. We also suggested that the subsidy should be delivered on the basis of “work more and gain more” in order to increase the work incentive of low-income workers and encourage other adult members to join the labour force.
Oxfam also proposes that the future scheme of Low Income Working Family Subsidy should provide child assistance to low-income families with child(ren) so that their household income can be increased well above the CSSA level. This will lessen their financial burden and encourage them to work towards self-reliance. In the long run, this will help alleviate intergenerational poverty.
Shorten the wait for public housing
Despite the housing needs of low-income people, the budget has not introduced any targeted measures regarding housing. As of September 2012, the number of applicants on the waiting list for public housing flats has already exceeded 200 thousand. Our latest survey titled “The Living Conditions of Tenant Households Who Have Been on the Waiting List for Public Rental Housing for Over Three Years” found that over 70% of “N have-not” families have not received any offer of public rental housing even after waiting over four years.
Oxfam calls on the Government to provide rental assistance for non-CSSA tenants who have been on the waiting list for public rental housing for over three years. The Government should also study the option of using vacant government lands to provide low-rent temporary housing for these families in the next five years. In the long run, the Government should increase the production of public rental flats from 15,000 to no less than 35,000 flats per year so as to ensure that applicants do not need to wait more than three years for their unit.
Oxfam is dedicated to fighting poverty and inequity worldwide. The international and independent development and humanitarian organisation tackles poverty in four main ways: sustainable development in poor communities, disaster relief, local and global advocacy, and education with Hong Kong youth. Established in Hong Kong in 1976, Oxfam Hong Kong is a founding member of Oxfam, an international confederation that has assisted poor people in 94 countries. Oxfam Hong Kong alone has supported poor people in over 70 countries/regions.
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