Speech by SLW at International Conference on Discovery and Innovation in Social Work Practicum Education (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Conference on Discovery and Innovation in Social Work Practicum Education today (May 20):

Professor Way Kuo (President, City University of Hong Kong), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     I feel deeply honoured to be invited to open this two-day International Conference on Discovery and Innovation in Social Work Practicum Education. Judging from the academic standing and diverse cultural background of the distinguished speakers plus the breadth of topics covered, one can tell the importance of this conference.

     Let me first thank the City University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong for joining hands in organising this event. It is, indeed, a privilege for Hong Kong to host this meaningful and high-level conference. My warmest welcome to all overseas delegates.

     To social work students, veteran social workers, field managers and supervisors alike, social work entails putting knowledge and theory into practice and turning empathetic understanding into creative problem-solving to assist clients in dealing with multifaceted problems. This is why field practicum forms an integral and indispensable part of social work education. In fact, in a rapidly changing world where textbook theories are frequently put to tests, social workers are literally in a perpetual state of practicum education. After all, they cannot and should not operate in a social vacuum. In fact, they are constantly in the battlefield, refreshed and challenged by new discoveries and fine-tuning their problem-solving skills.

     As a fast-changing, dynamic and cosmopolitan city where the East meets with the West, Hong Kong in many ways provides an exciting and ideal training ground for social work practicum.

     Hong Kong's ageing population, changing social landscape and family structures, poverty situation and increasing cross-border and cross-boundary interaction with people from the Mainland of China and across the world are only a few of the features which make this city both typical and unique as a living workshop for social workers. These closely interwoven and complex factors pose huge challenges for policymakers, and social workers for that matter. But let me stress that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government is tackling these problems head-on and in earnest. And we believe that with challenges always come opportunities.

     Hong Kong has a full-fledged and well-established welfare sector which offers a suitable environment for fieldwork education. To meet society's fast-changing social and demographic changes in a more effective, flexible and timely manner, especially in face of a fast-ageing population, the Hong Kong SAR Government works in concert and closely with the non-governmental sector in delivering quality welfare services. Currently, there are over 170 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) receiving government subvention, along with a variety of self-financing services and projects offered by these NGOs.

     In this financial year, government subvention to NGOs for funding a full range of social welfare services will amount to a significant HK$11.9 billion. This long-standing partnership between the Government and NGOs coupled with our world-class universities and the increasing readiness and willingness of the business sector in embracing and practising the concept of corporate social responsibility provide a solid basis for the sustainable development of social work. In fact, cross-sectoral collaboration among the civil society, NGOs, the business community and the Government provides the fertile soil for building a caring, compassionate, cohesive Hong Kong.

     Sharing the commendable goals of social workers, the Hong Kong SAR Government is dedicated to improving the well-being of our people. Our investment in social welfare has been substantial and constantly rising. It will reach HK$59.6 billion in 2015-16, representing 18.4 per cent of the Government's annual recurrent expenditure for that year, second only to education.

     It is noteworthy that of the Government's recurrent expenditure for 2015-16, almost 60 per cent will be channelled to the three major livelihood areas of education, social welfare and medical and health services. Education accounts for 22 per cent (HK$71.4 billion) while medical and health services take up 16.8 per cent (HK$54.5 billion). Given that Hong Kong has one of the lowest and simplest tax regimes in the developed world, this testifies to the importance and priority that we attach to social services and people's livelihood in our governance.

     Poverty alleviation and elderly care rank highly on the current-term Government's policy agenda. We are determined to promote Hong Kong's economic development, improve people's quality of living and care for the needy, whether they be the working poor, elderly, children and young people, new arrivals from the Mainland and abroad, ethnic minorities, homemakers, persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

     To ensure that the welfare sector is by no means doing it alone and to encourage more private donations and business sector involvement, the Government has set up the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged, the Child Development Fund and the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund as strategic platforms for cross-sectoral collaboration. Taking the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged as an example, donations from the business sector to support NGOs operating welfare projects for the disadvantaged are matched, dollar for dollar, by Government grants. Since the establishment of the Fund in 2005, this successful tripartite model has attracted donation amounting to HK$319 million from 1 120 business partners and benefitted over 1 million disadvantaged persons.

     Whilst Hong Kong is largely an affluent society, we do have our fair share of social problems. Let me say that the current-term Government has the political will and determination to come to grips with these challenges. We do not shy away from these problems and sweep them under the carpet. In bravely confronting these problems and in building a caring and fair society, the Government needs and counts on the support, hard work and dedication of our 19 000-strong registered social workers here and the entire social work community.

     Ladies and gentlemen, as caring gardeners who see helping the needy as a mission and commitment, as champions of social justice and promoters of harmony, social workers play a vitally important role in community building and turning challenges and crisis into hopes and opportunities. I salute their passion, perseverance and professionalism.

     On this note, I wish you all a successful conference, and fruitful and stimulating exchanges. Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:19