The government has offered one-off cash handouts of HK$10,000 (US$1,290) to an estimated 7 million adult permanent residents in the latest budget. There is concern about its cost effectiveness as the payment provides little impact to those who don’t need the money, whereas at the same time, the support it offers to needy families might not be enough. Furthermore, the program costs HK$70 billion and the cash handout is given to permanent residents irrespective of whether or not they are living in Hong Kong, while for others, such as children, domestic helpers and recent migrants, it is not applicable.
Another criticism is that it is taking a long time for the government to hand out the money. The latest announcement is that applications open in June and the money should arrive by August. Yet despite concerns, we can seize the opportunity to make something good out of the scheme.
What we have learned from this pilot study is that the overall happiness level can be increased if those who already have enough are willing to contribute
We have taken the initiative to start a pilot study inviting 35 individuals who are willing to pre-donate the government cash handout HK$10,000 to needy families recommended by school principals. The donors will be informed where the money has gone to, and recipients will return a thank-you note to the donors to increase the connectedness between the donor and contributor. In order to evaluate the program’s effectiveness, we collected feedback from the donors and recipients on their happiness level at various stages in a questionnaire.
In the past 12 months, it turned out that there was almost no difference in happiness between donors and recipients, with each rating 5.2 and 5.0 on the scale of 1 to 10. When we asked about their happiness levels after the government announcement of the HK$10,000 cash handout, it increased to 5.6 and 7.7 for donors and recipient respectively. The gain for the donor is marginal but the impact on the needy family is significant. With the additional HK$10,000 campaign, the happiness level has increased to 8.2 and 8.3 for donors and recipients respectively. If the money were kept by its original recipients and not shared, the combined satisfaction level would only be 13.3, whereas with this scheme, 16.5 is observed instead. It seems that a win-win situation has been achieved.
When we asked the donor how they would spend the HK$10,000 if it were not being donated, they suggested they would spend it on savings (35 percent), gifts (25 percent) and entertainment (15%), whereas recipients will spend the money on food (63 percent), rent (74 percent) and utilities (68 percent). The donors’ items are expandable and consumable, and the recipients’ items are essential. Of the donors, 85 percent felt that “others needing the money more” was one of the major reasons to participate in the program.
It is estimated there are 600,000 Hong Kong residents residing overseas. One participant, Dr Will Lee, a neurologist living in Melbourne, said he donated because he doesn’t need the money, and encouraged others to do the same. Meanwhile, one of my colleagues, Dr Julia Wang, is not entitled to receive the money but is happy to contribute as well, as she sees the need of the vulnerable in the community. It is heartwarming that one of the students shared with us that she is a new arrival to Hong Kong and has experienced discrimination in school; due to this project, she feels the care and support given by the school and the community, and her sense of belonging has become stronger. She would like to be a contributor when her condition improves. She will spend the money on helping her parents to pay the rent as her father lost much of his salary as a taxi driver.
What we have learned from this pilot study is that the overall happiness level can be increased if those who already have enough are willing to contribute. During the impact of COVID-19, the wealth gap has become even more acute. Because of the school suspension, all of the teaching has moved online, and for those families that do not have computers or good internet plans, the connection may not be stable, which creates additional stress for these families. As the unemployment rate is increasing due to the poor economic outlook, once again, it is the low-income families that have been hit hardest. The government cash handout is timely and very useful to the extent that it can be used to help to fill these gaps.
It is encouraging that the pilot study has been taken to a new stage with the support of the Lok Sing Tong Society voluntarily taking up the administrative work in collecting the donation and distributing to the families in need. Every dollar raised from the donor will be 100 percent given to recipients. The Project We Can schools (Wharf) will help us to identify the needy students, and has provided an opportunity for the school and students’ families to be reconnected.
We have shown the added value on happiness levels of donating the HK$10,000 handout to the needy families will be increased by 46 percent. Furthermore, the donation can promote social harmony, caring and mutual support in our society, and instill the spirit of “taking from the society and giving back to the society”.
If you still don’t know how you will spend the HK$10,000, give it to those who need it more. Or you can contact the Lok Sin Tong website. Yes, the government needs to work hard to make our economy rebound again. But at this moment, at least we can contribute to help one another to get through the storm arising from COVID-19. You share, you can, and you will be happier.
The author is associate dean (research) at the Faculty of Social Science, the University of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS