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Care Teams provide a versatile way to boost social welfare

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Care Teams provide a versatile way to boost social welfare

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)

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/352053#Care-Teams-provide-a-versatile-way-to-boost-social-welfare

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/epaper/pubs//chinadaily/2023/09/20/08.pdf

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.

中國夢智庫| 「關愛隊」 

1997回歸以來,貧富懸殊一直是治理特區事務中一項特別突出的施政困境。雖然「社會福利署」經常開支由653億元(2017-2018)大幅增至1,057億元(2021-2022)(註1),但此項社會福利增投未能提升或改善大部分有需要人士與弱勢社群的生活水準,大多數貧困戶心坎上只記得一個「窮」字。由於特區政府長期未能在扶貧攻堅戰中達標,生活在特區的貧苦老百姓們壓根就感受不到所謂的「社會公義」。

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。

實驗性「關愛隊」計劃將試行兩年(註2),筆者認為,這個計劃能為長期困擾特區社會發展的貧困問題帶來曙光。如果政府之後決定將「關愛隊」恆常化,此計劃有條件增進現行社會福利體系的靈活度與為現體系注入可持續性補充機制。「關愛隊」計劃本質上是一種公私合作夥伴關係,第一個亮點在於它具備的靈活可持續性特徵,允許政府在維持可持續性「關愛隊」的同時避免承受過度財政負擔。其二,「關愛隊」的一個基本職能是全力支持政府推動與提供地區工作服務社群。

早前,《2022年施政報告》正式確定在18區成立「關愛隊」來整合社區資源、力量、支持政府地區工作並加強社區內的管理網路。「關愛隊」需組織關懷活動與協助處理緊急情況。作為政府與社區的橋樑,「關愛隊」還可以為公眾解說政府政策與擔起傳播資訊的職責,並將公眾意見上傳政府(註3)。

作為各區內小隊的總指揮,當區民政事務專員(DO)須盡職盡責地監督遴選各「關愛隊」的全過程。 「關愛隊」的遴選分為兩個階段:(一)團體甄選和(二)服務建議書評審。第一階段遴選的目的是確保申請團體愛國愛港,能支持和配合政府領導,具備一定地區網絡和服務經驗,擁有跨區域動員能力,以及有能力凝聚並會尋求社會資源。只有符合評審準則的團體,才可通過第一階段遴選。第二階段遴選的目的是因應各小區需要,評審團體的服務計劃,以挑選最合適的團體成為小區的「關愛隊」小隊。地區民政事務處(民政處)會按區情擬備項目綱要,列明必需的服務要求和關鍵績效指標。通過第一階段遴選的團體須根據項目綱要,提交服務建議書,當中包括服務詳情和小隊的建議成員名單(註4)。

在2023年第一季度,政府於荃灣與南區率先試行「關愛隊」計劃。其後,全港18區將被劃分為452個小區,每個小區有相對應的「關愛隊」。政府會為每支「關愛隊」提供一定的資源。每支成功申請「關愛隊」將與政府簽訂為期2年的服務協定。視各小區的不同情況,每支「關愛隊」撥款總額介乎80萬至120萬元。政府亦鼓勵各機構透過民間贊助來鞏固社區工作,捐贈與物資開源來提供社區服務(註5)。

荃灣與南區試行的「關愛隊」與80間機構合作(包括非政府機構、商業團體與醫療機構)發揮政府、商界與社區的協同運作,為社區提供關懷服務。這兩支「關愛隊」會家探或聯絡20,000個長者住戶與20,000個有需要的住戶(如: 低收入住戶、劏房戶與慢性病患者),與社區不同階層人士建立聯繫,提供有關公共、社會福利、醫療或其他相關服務的資料,並協助預約有關服務。還有,這兩支「關愛隊」還將針對「三無樓宇」推廣社區服務工作(註6)。

「關愛隊」還能動員社區資源處理緊急情況。 在事發生時,荃灣與南區試行的「關愛隊」可動員其地區的網路,評估受影響居民的需求,酌情提供援助,並向廣大居民傳播重要資訊。「關愛隊」還能為無家可歸的人士提供庇護所資訊與服務,並在熱、冷或臨時庇護所的運作期間提供適當的協助(註7)。

在政策推廣方面,於2023年5月,荃灣與南區試行的「關愛隊」積極推動政府關於改善地區管治的建議。值得大家注意,「關愛隊」還有為居民提供各種志願者的相關培訓。為促進社會凝聚力,「關愛隊」將鼓勵與統籌義工們為特區的各區福祉做出貢獻,同時培養義工們對各自社區的歸屬感(註8)。

「關愛隊」計劃在特區落地與習近平主席在2018年初一次講話中強調攜手努力扶貧重要性,這兩者之間的關係絕非巧合。當時,習主席明確表示,需要動員各方面群眾力量來打贏脫貧攻堅戰(註9)。

「關愛隊」着重於在特區建立一個充滿關愛與共融的社會,但計劃只是一個為期兩年的實驗性政策。雖然如此,「關愛隊」的建立為公私營合作提供社會福利事業發展做了一個良好的開頭作用,一個公私合營而且互補的社會福利新體系能更好地發展社區發展建設工作。

一些學者專家認為新加坡在2013年採取社會福利制度改革是「大爆炸式」(Big-bang)發展。咱們在永久性區議會制度框架內新建「關愛隊」,筆者認為,這個計劃是一種靈活的施政方式,以稳健的发展步伐,逐渐强化特區的社會福利體系。

事實與資料來源已核查

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

文:洪志傑
「中國夢智庫」地區事務聯合總監
北角西分區委員
中學教師、大專客席講師
香港中文大學文學碩士
成都市政協委員
民建聯東區支部委員

文:丁煌
深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員
經民聯港島支部主席,「中國夢智庫」主席
香港薈萃協會法律顧問,城市智庫成員
國際公益法律服務協會顧問委員會成員
全國港澳研究會會員

《中國夢智庫》是一間扎根特區的非牟利團體;與心存熱誠的資深義工、專家與職業專業人士們合作,攜手「說好中國故事」。

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