By Hung Chi-kit and Kacee Ting Wong
Though recurrent expenditures on social welfare in Hong Kong have significantly increased from HK$65.3 billion ($8.35 billion) in 2017-18 to HK$105.7 billion in 2021-22, the increased expenditures have failed to warm the hearts of most of the needy and underprivileged. The deep-seated problem of poverty has remained deadlocked. As a result, there is a deep sense of injustice among some members of society.
Constrained by the restrictions imposed by Article 107 of the Basic Law to achieve a fiscal balance, and confronted with growing political pressure to increase regulation-induced transfers (e.g., regulations to increase health benefits for employees), the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has no other option but to find innovative ways to help the underprivileged. The launch of the District Services and Community Care Teams (Care Teams) can be regarded as an experimental supplement to strengthen the existing social welfare system and build a caring and inclusive society in the city.
The government will run the Care Team pilot program for two years. If the government decides to turn the Care Team experiment into a long-term policy, the Care Team initiative has the potential to become a flexible and sustainable supplementary mechanism to support the social welfare system, enabling us to see a streak of bright light breaking through the darkness that has surrounded the festering poverty problem. The Care Team program is flexible and sustainable because it is essentially a public-private partnership that allows the government to avoid making a substantial financial commitment to sustain the program. Supporting the government’s district-level work also enjoys a very high priority on the agenda of the Care Team.
As announced in the 2022 Policy Address, Care Teams will be set up in the 18 districts to consolidate community resources and forces, support the government’s district work, and strengthen community networks. Care Teams will organize caring activities and assist in handling emergencies. Acting as a transmission belt, they can also help the government disseminate information to the public and relay the views of the public to the government.
Being the commanders of all Care Teams in their districts, District Officers (DOs) must act in due diligence to supervise the selection process. The selection process for Care Teams consists of two stages: the organization selection stage, and the proposal assessment stage. The first stage of selection is to ensure that organizations forming Care Teams are patriotic and love Hong Kong, support and follow the government’s leadership, have a certain level of district-network and service experience, possess cross-district mobilization capability, and are able to consolidate and seek community resources.
Regarding the second stage, the purpose is to assess the detailed service proposals of the applicant organizations having regard to the service needs of individual subdistricts, so as to select the most suitable organizations to become the Care Teams of the subdistricts. Putting the assessment in the right focus, DOs will prepare service outlines for each subdistrict based on local circumstances, specifying the mandatory service requirements and key performance indicators.
In compliance with the plan, the Care Teams in the two pilot districts, the Tsuen Wan and Southern districts, were set up in the first quarter of 2023. The 18 districts in Hong Kong will be delineated into 452 subdistricts, with one Care Team for each subdistrict. The government provides Care Teams with some of the resources required. Subject to the circumstances of individual subdistricts, the total amount of funding for each Care Team for a two-year service agreement, ranges from about HK$800,000 to HK$1.2 million. The government also encourages the organizations to consolidate the community efforts and provide services through sponsorship, donation and internal resources.
Care Teams in the two pilot districts partner with a total of 80 organizations, including NGOs, commercial organizations and medical organizations, leveraging the synergy among the government, the business sector and the community to provide caring services for the community. These two Care Teams will, in total, visit or contact 20,000 elderly households and 20,000 other households in need (such as low-income households, residents of subdivided units, and people with chronic diseases) to establish contact, and to provide information on public, social welfare, medical or other related services, and assist in making appointments for the services. They will also visit “three-nil” buildings (buildings that do not have owners’ corporations or any form of residents’ organizations, or do not engage property management companies) in their districts.
The Care Team program has also opened the door to new possibilities for mobilizing community resources to handle emergencies. In the case of emergencies, Care Teams in the two pilot districts will mobilize their district networks to assess the needs of residents affected, provide assistance as appropriate, and disseminate important information. Care Teams will also show care for shelter users and provide suitable assistance during the operation of shelters providing refuge from the heat or cold, or other temporary shelters.
In respect of policy promotion, Care Teams in the two districts actively promoted the government’s proposals for improving governance at the district level in May. Finally, it is worthy of note that some Care Teams will provide residents with various volunteer training. To promote social cohesion, they encourage volunteers to contribute to the well-being of residents, developing their sense of belonging in the community.
It can hardly be a coincidence that the importance of joint efforts to fight against poverty has also been emphasized by President Xi Jinping. In a speech in early 2018, Xi stated in no uncertain terms that we should mobilize people from all quarters of society to fight poverty. Though the Care Team program is only a two-year experimental system to build a caring and inclusive society, it provides a good starting point for a public-private partnership to build supplementary mechanisms to support our welfare system. Unlike the “big bang” approach taken by Singapore in 2013 to strengthen its social welfare system, the Care Team program within a permanent institutional framework may offer a flexible way to gradually, progressively and incrementally strengthen Hong Kong’s social welfare system.
Hung Chi-kit is a guest lecturer at Professional Training College, and co-director of district administration of the Chinese Dream Think Tank.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of the Chinese Dream Think Tank.
【CDTT Newspaper Article】Hung Chi-kit and Kacee Ting Wong：Care Teams provide a versatile way to boost social welfare (China Daily HK Edition, 20 Sept 2023)
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
政府在扶貧政策方面有它在法律層面的苦衷。《基本法》第107條規定，特區政府財政預算要「… 以量入為出為原則，力求收支平衡，避免赤字並與本地生產總值的增長率相適應…」。還有，常規固定支出(Regulation-induced Transfers Increase)(如:雇員健康福利固定增加的相關法規)不斷增長，使扶貧工作舉步維艱。為尋求新道路完善現行社會福利體系與共建相互關愛與共融的社會，倍受壓力的政府以富創新的理念成立社會福利補助計劃:「地區服務及關懷隊伍」(「關愛隊」) 來幫助生活在特區的弱勢群體。
註 1: 施政報告「(七) 持續改善民生 一 福利開支增長」available at: https://www.policyaddress.gov.hk/2021/chi/p120.html
註 2: The Standard「Community care teams in Southern District officially launched」30.04.2023 available at: https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/203195/Community-care-teams-in-Southern-District-officially-launched
註 3: LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
PANEL ON HOME AFFAIRS, CULTURE AND SPORTS「District Services and Community Care Teams in Tsuen Wan and Southern District」10.07.2023 LC Paper No. CB(2)679/2023(05) available at: https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr2023/english/panels/ha/papers/ha20230710cb2-679-5-e.pdf
註 4: 民政事務總署「關愛隊概要」available at: https://www.had.gov.hk/tc/public_services/district_services_community_care_teams/introduction.htm#
註 5: 同前，註 3
註 6: 同上
註 7: 同上
註 8: 同上
註 9: Xi Jinping「The Governance of China」Beijing: Foreign Language Press 2020 at p 180