A grassroots organisation and pro-democracy parties on Wednesday slammed the government for cutting handouts for the poor and said proposals for HK$5,000 worth of electronic spending vouchers to residents and a guaranteed loan scheme for the jobless won’t do much to help.
Community organiser Sze Lai-shan from the Society for Community Organisation told RTHK the government should have given direct financial aid to Hong Kong’s most needy.
“We are really disappointed with the budget because it cannot help the most deprived groups in Hong Kong,” she said.
She said government should give cash handouts to all, instead of its proposal to give HK$5,000 worth of electronic spending vouchers in installments.
Sze said the scheme will likely involve bigger shops that the poor don’t usually patronise, as they can find cheaper products in smaller stores or from street hawkers.
She added that a proposed loan scheme for unemployed people, who can take out up to HK$80,000 fully guaranteed by the government, is useless if people can't find work or are already in debt.
“They cannot afford to apply for the loan because so many of them they are already unemployed or they don’t have any income and they don’t know whether they can find a job in future,” she said.
“Some of them [have already taken loans] from credit cards or from their relatives, so they already owe money so they need financial assistance, not loans.”
She also expressed disappointment that subsidies for the needy were slashed by half, with recipients of various welfare programmes only getting an extra half a month’s worth of payments this year – half of what they received last year.
Pro-democracy parties also roundly criticised the budget, saying the Financial Secretary Paul Chan should have given immediate cash aid to people.
Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said measures such as the electronic voucher scheme is a waste of resources, given the likely complicated logistics involved in setting up the giveaway.
“Electronic vouchers are very difficult to be used for many people – especially the [elderly] and especially the grassroots-level Hong Kong people,” he said.
“The money will be used in setting up systems instead of giving it to the Hong Kong people. Setup cost is a waste.”
The Civic Party struck a similar note. Vice-chairman Jeremy Tam said with many people already in debt, cash is king.
“Some people may be two or three months behind the rent, and some people already in debt. So is it actually a better way to give that amount in cash?” he said.