Hong Kong is crying out for bold thinking on social policies
Whoever wins the chief executive election will have to deal with the rotten legacy left behind.
One aspect is our government’s lack of social vision and policy goals to guide public spending. As an example of what we are missing, look to Singapore: its government has just issued the 2012 Budget. Similar to Hong Kong, emphasis was placed on upgrading and restructuring its economy amid global financial instability. The marked difference is that Singapore has used the annual budget as a tool to drive and co-ordinate measures to achieve the long-term social policy goal of building “ a fair and inclusive society”.
The city state’s budget includes initiatives to help older workers to build up their savings, enhance the affordability of health and long term care; supporting people with disabilities with care service and work opportunities through wage-subsidy incentives for employers; and lifting up low-income families by helping their children overcome early disadvantages through workfare income support and education subsidies from pre-school to university.
Through its budget, the Singapore government has demonstrated that helping the disadvantaged is not just an expenditure item, but a proactive policy to build capacities and create opportunities to ensure that they contribute to society’s progress and share in its fruits.
Compared with Singapore, the last budget of Hong Kong’s current administration pales. Hong Kong people are frustrated because they see the Government piling up reserves and not putting this wealth to work, addressing deep-seated social problems and improving the quality and quantity of public services.
Hopes for more resources – to cut waiting times for medical and care services, to provide smaller classes for students, to increase public housing – were left unanswered.
The Catholic Church of Hong Kong has issued an unprecedented open statement criticizing the administration for failing to address the widening wealth gap and not providing adequate care for the underprivileged.
The crux of problem is the Government’s longstanding resistance to significant recurrent expenditures.
The government, particularly the next administration needs to understand that handouts and one-off concessions are missing the point. Society is crying out for social policies based on sound analysis of present and future needs. We need policies that have clear rationales and are aimed at specific targets and outcomes. That means they must be accompanied by planning for the allocation of funding, for manpower training, and land and other resources. And they should involve performance and evaluation systems to measure how effective the policies are.
We need policies to address new as well as existing problems. For example, a population policy shoild prepare us for significant demographic changes like the ageing population and a trend towards more cross-border living. We need new approaches to divide the responsibility of care for those in need between the government and family. We need a poverty alleviation policy that tracks and tackles the sources of poverty and facilitates social mobility.
Society has serious expectations of our next Chief Executive who must have a clear vision and philosophy of governance and public finance management, and this must include bolder thinking on social policy.
Spending on health, education and welfare should be seen as an investment in our social infrastructure and human capital to keep Hong Kong competitive and vibrant. A society of educated and healthy individuals, supportive families and cohesive communities will be a productive and successful. But it needs well-resourced public services to build and enhance capacity, not just remedial safety nets and one-off handouts.
( * The article was published on 6 Mar, 2012 on the South China Morning Post )
「寫情寫理」捕捉社會點滴，讓關心香港的人 -- 無論從事社會服務或其他界別的