Need for helping hand

Need for helping hand

Hong Kong's poor working families are afraid to ask for help, so more needs to be done to support them

Sixty per cent of low-income parents cut down on their food and medical expenses in order to provide for their children, a report has revealed. Oxfam Hong Kong spoke to 400 families and found that more than 97 per cent of them do not apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), despite living below the poverty line.

They all had at least one child under the age of 18 and at least one full-time worker and an income of less than half the normal income in Hong Kong.

"Many of them told us that they hate being associated with the Social Welfare Department," said Wong Shek-hung, programme manager at Oxfam.

She said people didn't want to claim CSSA, which covers the unemployed as well as low-earners. Those who did claim would sometimes be made to feel bad for doing so. Of those surveyed, 81 per cent said they "hoped to earn [their] own living" and that was the main reason they did not apply.

Wong said more than 75 per cent of the workers interviewed spent more than 44 hours at work per week, with around a third of them working 60 hours or more.

For the children of those struggling to make ends meet, the lack of cash left 30 per cent short of pens, books and other supplies needed for school. They were also unable to take part in activities outside of school.

Oxfam has suggested setting up a monthly cash allowance for poor families. Wong said it should be handed out by the Labour Department, not the Social Welfare Department, to avoid any labels.

Kalina Tsang Ka-wai, Oxfam's senior programme manager, said the minimum wage also needed to be raised.

"The problem for these households is their low income," she said. "It'll be hard to maintain their current living standards if the minimum wage doesn't rise."

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