Anti-poverty measures a boon for all of society

Updated: 2015-10-14 07:32

By Peter Liang(HK Edition)

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The slight drop in the number of people living below the poverty line to just under one million, or 15 percent of the total population, does not seem very encouraging. But it does show that the government efforts in combating poverty by raising subsidies for the poor are producing some results.

There is obviously much left to be done. As Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has made dealing with poverty one of her most important goals, said, tackling poverty in a rapidly aging society like Hong Kong is an "uphill battle".

Combating poverty is an important part of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's main policy initiative of improving the livelihoods of Hong Kong people. In the past couple of years, the government has significantly increased subsidies to the most needy. Many of these people are retirees with small pensions and little savings.

Commenting on the annual government report released last week, Leung said the government would look into ways to improve the pension system, which has been criticized by union leaders and social activists for being unfair to workers.

Leung's words have apparently touched a raw nerve of the business sector. In the past few days, some business leaders publicly warned the government that they would fight any change that would be seen as a threat to their interests. There are those who have questioned the sustainability of government subsidies which are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

In doing so, these business people are doing Hong Kong a disfavor. They are deepening the social divide that has become a major source of discontent. They really do not have to appear so insensitive in defending and preserving their large share of the city's wealth.

These are the people who have steadfastly adhered to the hands-off social and economic policies which marked the dark days of early colonial times. Then, the government did not care much about the livelihoods of the Chinese majority in Hong Kong other than to provide basic infrastructure and elementary medical facilities.

In those days, numerous "tongs", or clan associations, dominated and funded by Chinese business people - mostly traders and shopkeepers - took it upon themselves to care for the poor and needy living among them in the ghetto on the western part of town. Their generosity was manifested in the establishment of some great charity institutions, notably the Tung Wah group of hospitals and Hong Kong Orphanage. These continue to serve the needs of the public today.

The high standard of social responsibility set by these early pioneers seems to have been lost on today's generation of business people. They have never learned from previous generations the wisdom of recognizing that a harmonious environment is actually good for business.

(HK Edition 10/14/2015 page7)