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Published: 00:26, November 04, 2022 | Updated: 10:34, November 04, 2022
Livelihood initiatives introduced in Policy Address meet public expectations
By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting Wong
Published:00:26, November 04, 2022 Updated:10:34, November 04, 2022 By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting Wong

The festering housing problem was high on the chief executive’s “hit list” in his maiden Policy Address. The initiatives to build new Light Public Housing (LPH), increase overall public housing production, cap the waiting time for public rental housing, and increase land supply have received plaudits from the general public. The public response to healthcare reforms, educational and elderly-care policies is also positive.

In July, President Xi Jinping gave an important speech in a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, putting forward “four musts” and “four expectations” as guidelines for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. In line with the livelihood expectation laid down by President Xi, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s public housing initiatives aim at improving people’s livelihoods. Although it is questionable whether the provision of LPH will reduce the waiting time for public rental housing (PRH) to four and a half years, and although the government will be unable to boost public housing supply in the short term, the initiatives have met the expectations of the PRH’s beneficiaries and the general public.

More importantly, it has arrested the erosion of public trust in the government. Trust should be boosted when people see the hope of getting on the housing ladder earlier. Whether or in what ways the public housing initiatives will help the government enhance output legitimacy remain to be seen. It’s advisable for the government to study the experience of Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB) in transforming housing development into the cornerstone of the national development strategy of the city-state (Richard Wong, Hong Kong Land for Hong Kong People (HK:HKU Press, 2015), p 166).

In Singapore, all public housing stock can be either rented or owned. According to Professor Richard Wong of the University of Hong Kong, the HDB has allowed households to get full ownership of their units at an affordable price. This measure has created a private-propertied citizenry in Singapore that has provided unwavering and stable support for the political leadership over the decades (Ibid, p 167). Though Hong Kong does not intend to use its public housing policy to create a private-propertied class, the public-housing policy plays an important role in helping the government win the trust and support of PRH tenants and prospective tenants.

The goals to increase the supply of land should not be reduced to lip service. Our cautious response to the government’s assurance that it has already identified more than enough land for public and private housing in the next decade stems from the foreseeable protests from various environmental groups against the development of greenbelt areas. In 2014, 16 environmental groups voiced their objection to the government’s proposal to develop greenbelt areas. The protest against the development of a private site in Tai Long Wan in 2010 reminds us that these environmental groups were able to mobilize mass support in the Age of the Internet (Roger Nissim, Land Administration and Practice in Hong Kong (HK: HKU Press, 2012), pp 159-160).

Although the much-appreciated development of brownfield sites has also been incorporated into the multipronged approach to increase land supply, the government seems to give priority to the development of greenbelt areas. Chan Kim-ching, founder of the Liber Research Community, said the government should prioritize developing brownfield sites — mainly agricultural land in the New Territories now occupied by warehouses — rather than greenbelt areas.

Concerning healthcare reform, the government has taken an important step in the right direction to shift the emphasis from unsustainable hospital-based treatment to sustainable community-based primary care that is focused on disease prevention. As a developing country, Vietnam deserves great credit for building up the capacity of district and community healthcare facilities. The Working Group for Primary Healthcare Transformation is a success story in Vietnam (Jorg Reinhardt, Vietnam’s Impressive Healthcare Strategy, in The ASEAN Post, June 25, 2019). One important lesson that we can learn from the healthcare reform in Vietnam is to give priority to changing public perceptions toward primary healthcare.

One of the ingrained habits of Hong Kong patients is to rely on specialist services in hospitals and clinics. In response to this, the government will introduce a Co-care Pilot Scheme for district health offices to refer patients at risk of hypertension and diabetes for treatment by private family doctors. Medical and Health Services Sector Legislative Councilor Doctor David Lam Tzit-yuen said it will take time to change the existing culture, with more work needed to educate Hong Kong residents on the value of seeking out family doctors before going to a hospital to see a specialist.

With regard to educational policy, the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education has attracted considerable attention because it helps build a solid foundation for students in support of our direction of promoting I&T development and boosting the arts, cultural and creative industries in the city, In the next five years, the target of the government is that 35 percent of postsecondary students will be studying STEM subjects, and 60 percent will be studying subjects relevant to Hong Kong’s development into the new “eight centers” designated in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

Mention has also been made of the pressing need to promote national education within and beyond the classroom. A sense of national pride should be ingrained in the minds of our students. Furthermore, we should raise the awareness of our students to safeguard national security. Teachers, who are responsible for fostering positive values and a sense of national identity among students, should possess professional capabilities and uphold professional conduct. Therefore, newly appointed regular teachers in all public schools are required to pass the Basic Law Test. We support all these measures wholeheartedly.

Finally, we support the measures to strengthen the support for the elderly persons to age in place. These measures are: regularizing the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher, setting up 16 new neighborhood elderly centers, and expanding the Housing Authority’s Integrated Discharge Program for Elderly Patients. Nevertheless, these measures have failed to address the emotional needs of the elderly. This topic has been thrown into the pool of current debate in gerontology. Their studies show that old people need meaningful relationships and emotional support.

Attention to aging and precarity exposes the deeply personal and ontological experiences of vulnerability that takes place across the life course and into late life (Amanda Grenier, et al (eds.), Precarity and Ageing (Bristol: Policy Press, 2020), p 241). To reduce the vulnerability of the elderly and address their emotional needs, we suggest that “care teams” of the designated districts pay regular district-based visits to the selected elderly who are in urgent need of emotional support. Proper training should be provided for the volunteers of the care teams. We should not downplay the importance of these visits because studies have shown that older women who report low levels of emotional support are twice as likely to die as those with high levels of emotional support (TC Antonucci, A Life-span View of Women’s Social Relations, in B Turner (ed.), Women Growing Older: Psychological Perspectives (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1994), pp 239-269). Besides, community organizers and district councilors may take initiatives to maintain regular contacts and establish meaningful relationships with the vulnerable elderly in their serving districts.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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