Hong Kong’s ‘community living rooms’ not enough to tackle poverty, welfare chief told

Hong Kong’s welfare chief has faced pressure from lawmakers who argue he has not come up with effective ways to measure and help the population living in poverty, with some saying a government-led “community living room” project cannot tackle the problem in the short-run.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han on Monday told a Legislative Council welfare panel meeting that three new community living rooms – in Nam Cheong, To Kwa Wan and Hung Hom – were set to open in the summer.

That will be in addition to an existing space in Sham Shui Po, where local residents who live in cramped subdivided flats can do homework, shower, cook and eat.

While some lawmakers in the meeting praised the facility, others expressed scepticism about the scheme, which the government had highlighted as one of the projects for targeted poverty alleviation.

“Now we are talking about poverty alleviation and bringing people out of poverty,” welfare sector lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen said.

“Now we have a community living room and people can have more space, but can you say those people will be out of poverty three years later?”



The grim reality of life in Hong Kong’s ‘coffin homes’ | Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

The grim reality of life in Hong Kong’s ‘coffin homes’ | Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

He also criticised a government move to drop the use of the poverty line, which has household income as the sole indicator, as well as overall measures to help the poor.

“The current strategy of targeted poverty alleviation is not targeted, not accurate and not effective,” Tik said.

“First of all, I don’t understand why the government has cancelled the use of the poverty line.”

Although there had been debate worldwide on the need for a poverty line, Tik said, the threshold could be used as an indicator to show trends on an increasing or decreasing number of poor people. And it could be used to monitor the government’s performance in poverty alleviation efforts.

He said without the poverty line, it would be difficult to fairly determine the situation locally.

Other lawmakers suggested other indicators that could be used to measure poverty.

Doreen Kong Yuk-foon said the government should include equality of opportunities, such as in education or medical services, to measure poverty.

Stanley Ng Chau-pei urged the government to come up with more precise poverty indicators.

“If there is no definition for poverty, it will be hard to identify targets for poverty alleviation,” Ng said.

“Can disposable income be used as a way … to introduce poverty alleviation measures?”

Welfare minister Sun said the government was working towards a multidimensional approach to measure poverty, while previously revealing a new calculation method would be drawn up by the end of the year.

“For example, in the past, we might just look at body mass index to see whether a person is healthy. But a person with normal BMI might still suffer from other problems, that’s why we might need to check their heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys as well,” he said on Monday.

He also said the concept of opportunity equality was good, but it would be difficult to include in the multidimensional approach, as there was no indicator to measure if a person faces equal opportunities.

Lawmaker Lam San-keung said the government could consider asking listed companies to be involved in poverty alleviation work, and introduce a rating system for welfare organisations to ensure credibility before they received donations.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary for labour and welfare Ho Kai-ming told the meeting that exchange tours to mainland China for social welfare groups, an effort stipulated under a fund dedicated to supporting the development of the sector, would start in late May.

The government has reserved HK$100 million (US$12.8 million) from the HK$500 million dedicated fund for subsidising NGOs to arrange for their staff to join national studies programmes and mainland exchange tours.

Ho said the government had helped coordinate the first trip, which could be used as a reference for future applications for similar tours.



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