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Suggestions to Policy Address 2019

On 10 July 2019 the Chief Executive, Ms Carrie Lam has invited the members of the public to give their views regarding the 2020 Annual Policy Address. Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres (HKFWC) was founded in 1981. HKFWC has established the first-ever women support hotline in Hong Kong, providing free legal advice for family law-related issues; HKFWC is also greatly concerned about the rights of grassroots women and gender justice, legal support and counselling are provided for cases involving marriage problems and domestic violence. HKFWC strongly urges that the Government is responsible for community care services and they should strengthen the policies on carer support. Therefore HKFWC suggests that support should be provided to carers both financially and emotionally, and also on obtaining information. In view of the serious problem of single parenting, HKFWC, therefore, suggests to provide transitional subsidies and set up a department dedicated to alimony.

 

Carer-based policies to adequately supporting the needy carers

In recent years there have been numerous caregiving tragedies. Carers are at their breaking points despite the Government's effort to provide further support to carers at various social services. For example, the Government increased HKD$2 billion recurrent expenses and reinforced the outreaching services after an 80-year-old killed his sick wife; also the number of resources and services for families centres has been increased to 19 to reinforce the support for carers of persons with disabilities; and living subsidies are provided for low-income carers for elderly and disabled persons. However, these services are scattered in different districts, also it is still being categorised by the type of care recipients, carers would have to travel to different service centres if their care recipients belong to more than one service categories. This would be a waste of time and energy for the carers. HKFWC requests the Government to develop carer-based policies that focus on carers and suit their needs, in order to effectively provide appropriate support for carers.

 

1. Carers database: to aptly understand the carers' community and to provide targeted and specific support

The Government could only estimate and guess carers’ needs from scattered data because there is no dedicated data collection for carers at the moment. Without accurate data analysis, a policy so devised might not be able to effectively improve the situation of carers. Since the community of carers is complex and involves different situations, HKFWC suggests that the Census and Statistics Department could design a comprehensive thematic survey to collect data such as categories of carers and care recipients, years of care, financial situation, living condition, residing district, age, care expenses etc. The society and the Government thus could have a better understanding of the real situation of the carers and to develop appropriate policies and services accordingly.

 

2. One-stop carers support centre: Carers could take a break

As for now, social services are still categorised according to the types of care recipients, therefore carers have to travel to different centres just to receive services. It is considered luxury for carers who rarely get to rest. Therefore it is vital to have a one-stop support centre that focuses on the needs of carers. This centre should provide psychological and emotional counselling service, holistic support and respite service to provide more alternatives for carers and to integrate carers’ resources effectively. Through this one-stop support centre, carers could access resources more easily and thus provide care more effectively.

 

3. Carer allowance: affirms carer's social and economic contributions and expands the scope of beneficiaries of subsidies

Carer allowance is also a very important issue. Right now only carers of elderly and disabled persons from low-income families are eligible for the pilot scheme of living allowance under Community Care Fund, and there are still many hurdles to overcome before they get the allowance. Because this programme is linked to the waitlisting of residential service, only carers who are invited could participate, hence the needs of other carers are ignored. The aim of the carer allowance should be to affirm the needs of carers, at the same time provide social protection for carers who need financial support and serves as another social security policy outside of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) that focuses on the needs of grassroots carers. The Government should re-evaluate the aim of the pilot scheme and expand the beneficiaries of the allowance to carers from different categories (e.g. caregivers for children). Furthermore, it should be delinked from the waitlisting of residential service, so carers could apply according to their needs. As a crucial issue amongst carers' policies, carer allowance should act as a stable source of support for the grassroots carers and affirm their social and economic contributions towards the society and their family members.

 

Address grassroots' needs for childcare services

Carers are most concerned about the development of children. The support towards childcare provided by the Government could directly affect the well-being of children and carers. As the future pillars of society, we need to ensure an excellent environment is given to the children. Places for childcare services in Hong Kong have always been chronically insufficient. Lots of women who wish to re-join the workforce are forced not to because of the caring responsibility. This indirectly weakens woman workforce, also lessen the chance for low-income families to improve their standard of living.

 

4. Alternatives for caregiving: respite services for child carers
Most child carers from grassroots families wish to re-join the workforce in order to help meet household expenses. The most straightforward way to help us to provide a cheap yet trustworthy alternative for child carers, so they can work with no worries. However currently there are only 747 places in subsidised independent childcare centres, but at the same time, private childcare service is too expensive for grassroots families. On top of that, there is only a handful of emergency respite service available in Hong Kong. When there is any emergency e.g. the child carer has to be admitted to the hospital emergency department they will have to bring the child with them for the fear of leaving them at home unattended. This is especially significant amongst single-parent families. Put yourself in their shoes – any mother would want to risk her child who has a relatively weak immune system to the hospital? HKFWC, therefore, suggests providing sufficient respite services for child carers. This could help child carers re-join the workforce and also provides a safe place for their children when there are any emergencies.

 

5. Babysitter as a formal job: babysitting is not volunteer work
Community babysitting is considered volunteer work at the current “Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project”. HKFWC was in touch with a number of grassroots women. Although they need childcare services, they still express their concern towards the babysitters even though they have had “training” for a few hours. Plus there are lots of sub-divided units in the Sham Shui Po district and they are afraid their children would get hurt in such narrow and small space. This kind of service that solely bases on building neighbourhood support and volunteer services clearly could not be seen as an alternative for formal childcare services.

HKFWC suggests the Government should institutionalise babysitter as a formal job, and to provide proper professional training for babysitters; create a registry of approved babysitters, affirms qualifications of child carers, and to provide appropriate and flexible childcare services for family carers; also in order to attract women to re-join the workforce, their salary should be no less than the minimum wage standard. This does not just create work opportunities for grassroots women, it could also speed up the development of formal babysitters as a career, and to further reduce the burden of women having to take care of both family and career.

 

6. Real-time information system: easier for child carers to look for childcare resources
The Consultancy Study on the Long-term Development of Child Care Services from last year suggests that the Government should consider setting up a real-time information system for childcare services to reduce the time when child carers looking for childcare services. HKFWC thinks this is an appropriate suggestion. Grassroots child carers receive very limited information, it would be time-consuming for them to inquire about the centres one by one. Setting up a real-time information system would be convenient for child carers as it can provide a real-time update on the vacancy of daycare places. In the Welfare and Priorities Setting meeting at the beginning of this year, the Social Welfare Department mentioned that they would set up a real time system in 2019, so people in need could directly enquire vacancy for elderly daycare service online. The relevant system could also include information related to child daycare services.

 

The poverty of single-parent families

Single-parent families have always been a vulnerable group that needs a helping hand. According to A Study on Divorced Single-parent Families in Poverty (2017) by HKCSS, the poverty rate of the children of divorced parents is as high as 41.1%; at least one third of divorced single parent unit applied for CSSA, which is one times more than that of people who are under 18 in Hong Kong. This shows that poverty in the children of single parents is just as serious. There is a deep connection between poverty in single-parent families and gender relationships. The percentage of a divorced single mother who applied for CSSA is 37.9%, which close to double the percentage of that of a single father (19.9%). This indicates the seriousness of the poverty level in divorced single mothers.

 

7. Cash subsidy: the Community Care Fund to provide a transitional subsidy for low-income divorcee during legal process

When facing sudden change in the family, divorcees would need to face extra expenses on legal process and living situation. However, the application for CSSA and legal aid take time despite the financial constraints they are facing. Therefore, HKFWC suggests that the Community Care Fund could provide a one-time cash subsidy of $3,500 to help divorcees over the difficult times.

 

Subsidy targets are people who are undergoing divorce procedure with low-income and non-CSSA recipients, and their income should not be more than 75% of the median monthly domestic household income in Hong Kong. According to the a study by the Census and Statistics Department, 26,000 of divorced single parents belong to the financially inactive population, unemployed and have part time jobs. The amount of subsidy/aid is about $9,100,000 (26,000 x $3,500).

 

8. Establish a dedicated department for child support, tackling the root cause of defaults in alimony
The problem of defaulted alimony still exists despite the Government's effort to carry out various practices. The Government should introduce "joint parental responsibility", at the same time learn from other countries, establish a dedicated department for alimony to help the parents in need to recover the payment. This could oblige the divorcees to fulfil their obligations to support their children.

This department has to be coordinated by the officials and has the relevant functions and power to recover alimony. Their functions should include: help with the collection of payments, collection of alimony, advanced fund, and cooperate with different departments. The power to recover alimony includes fines, interest, deduction of income, tax refund and other income, suspension of driving license, notify the credit reference and the import of immigration restrictions. The department could function as follows: 1. Independent official sub-committee, or 2. Use additional personnel from the Social Welfare Department or tax authority to specifically handle the matters.

 

9. Collect and publish data of measures regularly on recovering alimony to monitor its effectiveness
Review of Law and Administrative Measures affecting Divorcees and Children who are Eligible for Alimony (1999) pointed out, there was a lack of information and data related to alimony to evaluate the effectiveness of its measures. To respond to this, the Government started to from time to time issue Reports on the Enforcement of Order to Payment of Alimony since 2001. However these reports failed to fully cover all the alimony related data, including the state of the recovery measures (e.g. the effectiveness of judgement summons, the amount of recovered payment, additional fee of the alimony, interest and duration etc) and the state of people who whose payments are being defaulted (e.g. their financial, family condition etc). The Government should regularly collect and analyse the data on the implementation of alimony related measures, publish it on Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics, to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures and to adjust accordingly.

 

Conclusion

Seeing the society is in an unstable state, as the Chief Executive Ms Carrie Lam said in the speech she gave at the reception in celebration of the 22 anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region on 1 July 2019: "The incident that happened in recent months… I will learn the lesson and ensure that the Government's future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community.  The first and most basic step to take is to change the Government's style of governance to make it more open and accommodating". HKWFC thinks that the Government is duty-bounded to restore social order. Hence they should listen humbly to the views of the public and respond promptly, encourage communications and improve people's livelihood. Also with a hefty financial reserve, the Government has the ability to increase the amount of recurrent expenditure, implement the following measures in order to improve the situation of grassroot women in the long term.


Suggestions

  • Gender budgeting should be built in when writing up the Policy Address and the Budget so that both genders could get equal distribution of resources and opportunities.
  • Establish policies that focus on caregivers so it could provide better care for caregivers, including conducting a thematic survey on the state of caregivers, setting up one-stop caregiver support centres, and providing subsidies for caregivers whose hours of caregiving reaches a certain amount, so as to ease their financial pressure.
  • Establish a dedicated department for alimony, in response to the maladministration currently and alleviate the problem of single-parent poverty. Our suggestion is to establish a dedicated department, receive payments on behalf of the recipients and recover alimony, to simplify the procedures, to avoid the situations where the recipients fail to receive alimony and have to travel back and forth to the court and the Social Welfare Department when they are already facing financial difficulties.

Media Enquiry

Ms Si-si Liu

Director

sisi.liu@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8101

Mr Alvin Chung

Senior Development Officer

alvin.chung@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8105

Ms Fishing Tsoi

Advocacy Officer

sm.tsoi@womencentre.org.hk
(852) 2748 8106