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Speech by SLW at Foundation Forum 2011: Identifying Major Social Issues and the Initiatives for Social Action (English only)

     The following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at Foundation Forum 2011: Identifying Major Social Issues and the Initiatives for Social Action today (June 3):

Eleanor (Chairman, Keswick Foundation, Mrs Eleanor Ling), Christine (Chief Executive, Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Ms Christine Fang), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Thank you for inviting me to this high-powered luncheon. I am delighted to meet so many leading representatives from philanthropic foundations and co-workers of the social welfare sector. I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak on a topic of growing community concern and for which I am accountable - that is, Hong Kong's welfare strategy.

     As an appetiser, let me start by making a frank observation. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's welfare policy has always been under the public spotlight and subject to considerable criticism. This is understandable as welfare is interwoven with people's well-being and livelihood. Some of our critics regard our welfare policy as far from adequate. Others label our approach as a hotchpotch of short-sighted and piecemeal measures.

     I must admit that, as in other public policy areas in a fast-changing and increasingly complex society like Hong Kong, there is always room for improvement in our welfare policy. This is why we are constantly seeking to enhance and develop our welfare system to keep abreast with the needs of the community. But our system is certainly not wanting in policy vision and direction as some of our critics suggest. We are not muddling things through. On the contrary, we have clear strategic goals and vision. Let me elaborate.

     To begin with, our priority is to provide a sturdy and sustainable welfare safety net for the needy, the disadvantaged and the underprivileged. A wide range of preventive, supportive and remedial welfare services are in place to assist and empower the vulnerable. Yet, the Government is also mindful that the provision of welfare services should not create a sense of dependency among the recipients, sap their motivation for self-help and remove incentives to work.

Fiscal Commitment

     Our investment in welfare has been substantial and constantly on an upward trend. Recurrent expenditure on social welfare in 2011-12 will rise by 11%, representing the largest increase among all policy areas. An additional $4.2 billion will be allocated to social welfare spending, taking the total to $42.2 billion or 17.4% of the Government's total recurrent expenditure, just second to education. This compares with the figure of $28.6 billion (or up by 47.6%) in 2001-02 and $20 billion (or up by 111%) in 1997-98. Given that we have one of the lowest and simplest tax regimes in the developed world, this testifies to the importance and priority that the Government attaches to social welfare.

     Fiscal commitment apart, our welfare system has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs and aspirations of our population and social landscape. Allow me to cite a few examples.

Holistic Approach

     First, the scope and delivery of welfare services have evolved. An integrated approach, for instance, was introduced in the mid-1990s. Services are provided in a more holistic, convenient and easily accessible way. This has fundamentally transformed the delivery of our mainstream services, specifically for the family and youth.

     We now have 61 Integrated Family Services Centres (IFSC) and 137 Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres across the territory. Since January 2009, we extended this one-stop-shop approach to set up 16 District Support Centres for Persons with Disabilities. These one-stop shops provide a range of support services to meet the different needs of disabled persons and help relieve the pressure on their families and carers. To provide one-stop, accessible and integrated community mental health support service to discharged patients, persons with suspected mental health problems and their families living in the community, we have extended the model of Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) to all 18 districts since last October.

     The beauty of this one-stop service delivery mode lies in the increasing flexibility of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to deploy resources and provide services in a more effective and timely manner. Today, this approach has become the mainstream service delivery model.

Welfare "Pilots" Take Off íV Extension of
Evidence-based Measures

     Equally important is the full-fledged regularisation and extension of a number of experimental social welfare measures in recent years. It is important to note that we have broken new ground in encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration by facilitating a series of successful pilot welfare projects to take off and take root.

     By way of example, we have decided to turn the pilot Integrated Discharge Support Programme for Elderly Patients into a permanent scheme and extend it from three districts to all 18 districts in Hong Kong by 2012. The programme provides one-stop services for elders discharged from hospitals with a view to reducing the risk of their unplanned hospital readmission through better discharge planning and post-discharge support, thereby enabling them to continue to age in place. The number of elders benefiting from this programme every year will rise significantly from the current 8,000 to 33,000.

     We will also extend the Comprehensive Child Development Service, again a joint cross-bureau, cross-discipline initiative, to the whole territory. This enables the early identification of high-risk pregnant women, mothers and infants and their referral to suitable health or welfare service units for follow-up. This should go some way toward tackling the thorny problem of cross-generation poverty.

     The regularisation of the pilot Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project (or popularly known as "neighbourhood nanny" scheme) and extension of its coverage to the whole territory also bears eloquent testimony to how our prudent, evidence-based but forward-looking step-by-step approach bears fruit.

Challenges Ahead

     Having said that, we must not be complacent given the many challenges facing us. One of the hard nuts that we need to crack is how to tackle the problems arising from a rapidly ageing population. At present, one out of eight Hong Kong residents is aged 65 or above; the ratio will climb to one in four in 2029, and will reach 28% in 2039. With the primary objective of promoting "ageing in place", we provide elders who age at home with subsidised centre-based and/or home-based community care services. For those who have long-term care needs and cannot be adequately taken care of at home, we provide them with subsidised residential care services.

     While this policy anchor is sound and preferred by most elders, a successful "ageing in place" policy does not materialise in a vacuum.  The Elderly Commission has commissioned a consultancy study on how to enhance community care services to better serve our elderly and the findings will be available soon.

     The growing economic integration between Hong Kong and the Mainland has also generated new demands for welfare services. Cross-boundary marriages and the large and increasing number of babies born to Mainland mothers plus the so-called Type II babies, that is, both parents are non-Hong Kong permanent residents, will lead to diverse and unpredictable service demands in the medium to long term.

Tripartite Partnership in Provision of Welfare

     I must stress that we will not shy away from these challenges. Indeed, we believe in turning challenges into opportunities. But this cannot be achieved by Government alone. It also needs a joined-up society.

     Let me make myself clear here: the call for joined-up efforts and shared responsibility is not a pretext for less Government involvement and commitment. The Hong Kong SAR Government has been, and will remain, a major funding source of various welfare initiatives. We will never abdicate our responsibility to help the disadvantaged. But a truly caring society means that we all should join hands and work shoulder to shoulder. This calls for a unity of mind and purpose.

     That is why the Government and the welfare and business sectors have been actively developing tripartite partnerships in recent years. There are many ways for companies and private foundations to engage the welfare sector. Apart from donations to charitable activities, there can also be transfer of knowledge, provision of mentorship and promotion of volunteerism among the company staff, etc. More and more companies have set up their own private funds to finance innovative welfare projects. Through strengthening the networks among different stakeholders in the community, concepts such as community participation, mutual assistance and support as well as social inclusion are widely promoted.

     Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot help but emphasise more that with your foundations' relationships with different public and civil society actors, your human and economic assets and your leadership skills and social networking, you all are well placed to lend impetus to the concept of tripartite partnership.

     One of the roles that the private and business sectors can usefully play in this new movement for social change is engagement in volunteerism. Volunteering brings opportunities for different sectors and age groups to collaborate, to understand and help people in need. We should all work together to promote volunteerism, recruitment and training of volunteers so as to better utilise social resources.

     This brings me to a few ongoing Government initiatives which allow volunteerism and tripartite co-operation to blossom.

     We have introduced the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged in 2005. Since its inception, the Fund, through funding support on a matching basis, promotes collaboration among the social welfare sector, the business community and the Government in helping the disadvantaged, thereby enhancing social cohesion. So far, around $159 million has been approved under the Fund, attracting a total donation of a similar amount from various business corporations to support 388 welfare projects. The total number of beneficiaries has already exceeded 800,000. To keep up the momentum, we injected an additional $200 million into the Fund last year.

     Instead of relying on conventional relief work, we need to unleash the potential of social capital to achieve better social outcomes and development in the community. The $300 million Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF), set up in 2002, provides seed money to create social capital by fostering mutual support and assistance among people, developing cross-strata neighbourhood networks, and promoting community participation and cross-sector collaboration. So far, over 220 projects have been approved under the CIIF and some 560,000 people from different age groups, social strata and cultural or ethnic backgrounds have participated in the projects.

     On inter-generation poverty, our goal is to plug the intangible social gap between children from a disadvantaged background and those from better-off families. This prompted the Government to set up the $300 million Child Development Fund in 2008. The Fund sponsors projects comprising three core asset-building components, namely a personal development plan, a mentorship programme and targeted savings, by which the child can build up financial and social assets, with a view to reducing inter-generation poverty. So far, 2,270 children have benefited in the first two batches of projects. We will roll out another two batches of projects for 5,000 children in 2011-12, and more projects in the years to come. Our aim is to benefit some 13,600 children eventually. But we need more mentors to walk with our youngsters and guide them in their journey.


     Ladies and gentlemen, it is most encouraging to see the growing interest of various foundations and the more affluent members of our community in the well-being of the underprivileged. I am sure that given our collective efforts and wisdom, we will make Hong Kong a more caring, just and compassionate society and narrow the divide between the rich and poor.

     Finally, I would like to pay warm tribute to all the foundations present here today. Together, you provide a solid foundation on which to build a more inclusive and caring society for Hong Kong. Apart from your generous grants and donations, your heart, dedication and passion have reinforced, complemented and supplemented the Government's efforts on the social welfare front and help fill service gaps for our disadvantaged. We are deeply appreciative of your sterling contribution. You are shining examples of corporate social responsibility. Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, June 3, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:01


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