Government urged to address child poverty and enhance poverty alleviation measures

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Insert picture: Chris Sun

29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a recent session of the Legislative Council today, the issue of child poverty and poverty alleviation measures in Hong Kong was raised. Hon Yung Hoi-yan expressed concerns over the lack of attention given to the Child Allowance under the Working Family Allowance Scheme (WFA Scheme) and the absence of specific support measures to tackle child poverty. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, responded to the questions and outlined the government’s approach to poverty alleviation.

The current-term government has adopted a targeted poverty alleviation strategy, focusing on directing resources to those in greatest need. The Commission on Poverty (CoP) supports this approach and recognizes the importance of addressing the specific needs of different target groups. The government aims to empower individuals who are capable of self-reliance, while also providing support to those who are unable to help themselves.

Regarding the first question, the Working Family Allowance (WFA) Scheme is designed to assist lower-income working households that are not eligible for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). The scheme promotes self-reliance through full-time employment and rewards hard work. Currently, the amount of child allowance under the WFA Scheme is linked to household income, with higher rates for households with lower incomes. However, the government plans to increase the rates of household and child allowances by 15 per cent across the board from April 2024. This increase aims to alleviate the financial burden on low-income working families with children. Additionally, the government has implemented several improvement measures for the WFA Scheme in recent years, including relaxing eligibility criteria and increasing allowance rates.

In response to the second question, the government operates a non-contributory social security system comprising the CSSA Scheme and the Social Security Allowance (SSA) Scheme, which includes the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), Old Age Allowance (OAA), and Disability Allowance (DA). Each scheme has different application requirements to ensure that resources are directed to those in need. The CSSA Scheme serves as a safety net for individuals who cannot support themselves financially due to various reasons, and means tests are in place to determine eligibility. The SSA Scheme aims to meet the special needs of severely disabled individuals and elderly residents. The WFA Scheme, on the other hand, supports low-income working households not covered by CSSA. Applicants are required to meet income, asset, and working hour requirements. The government adjusts the income and asset limits of these schemes annually to ensure their effectiveness and financial sustainability.

Regarding the release of poverty statistics, the government acknowledges the limitations of using median monthly household income as the sole indicator for measuring poverty. The Commission on Poverty supports the government’s adoption of a multidimensional approach to monitor poverty, which includes considering household assets, liabilities, and in-kind benefits such as public medical services, subsidized housing, and free education. The government plans to release the latest poverty statistics, and the Office of the Government Economist is working on devising macro indicators for long-term monitoring and formulating key performance indicators for targeted poverty alleviation projects.

In addressing the issue of intergenerational poverty, the government established the Task Force to Lift Underprivileged Students out of Intergenerational Poverty and launched the Strive and Rise Programme. This program focuses on lifting secondary school students from underprivileged families, particularly those living in subdivided units, out of poverty. The government has implemented various measures to enhance the program, including increasing the number of mentees, expanding the range of activities, and establishing an Alumni Club for program graduates. The government remains committed to implementing targeted poverty alleviation projects to cater to the needs of different target groups.