Hong Kong’s job market is continuously improving and workers now enjoy the safeguard of the minimum wage. Despite this, there are still over 26,000 Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients who are unemployed. This situation is worrying. Today, the Legislative Council is debating about eliminating abuse of the CSSA for the unemployed. I agree that the CSSA’s unemployment allowance system needs to be optimized. However, resource is not the most important issue. The vital key is to help the unemployed rebuild their life.
The Chinese society is all about self-reliance. Most people still possess this traditional virtue. Most Hong Kong people would rather work hard to earn what they deserve than to apply for the CSSA unemployment allowance, unless there are special reasons. In fact, the society is sympathetic towards those who need temporary financial help, because they cannot find employment in a short period of time. But the job market today is not looking grim at all, and there are still many people who continuously rely on the dole money. This is not a healthy social phenomenon; we should investigate deep into this matter.
According to government statistics, by the end of October 2012, there were over 18,000 people who have been continuously receiving the CSSA unemployment allowance for three years or more. Among them, over 14,000 people have been receiving unemployment benefits for five years or more. These people may have their own personal issues. They may not feel confident about their future, or have given up on themselves, or refuse to work because of work stress, or maybe they simply do not know how to prepare for a job interview. Of course, we cannot rule out that there are people who simply do not want to work. There can be many other reasons why people do not work. The CSSA unemployment allowance might just be a temporary refuge for them. Therefore, I believe that by simply giving them money cannot help them out of their difficult situations.
Moreover, out of those who were receiving the CSSA unemployment benefits in 2011, 302 possess tertiary qualification or above. Although the number fell from 383 people in 2009, their average period of receiving the unemployment allowance has reached 5.3 years. Of them, 85 are below the age of 30. Numerically speaking, 300 may not sound a lot, but they are university graduates and it should not be difficult for them to find a job under the current job market. They can surely earn more than the grassroots citizens, why are they continuously living on a measly dole payment? What is happening to them? In my opinion, the government must initiate help and care for these people.
In fact, if most people in a society can cultivate a positive outlook on life, the society will grow wholesomely. For a person who has the ability to work, a healthy life means having his own career, so that he can contribute to the society or its economy and share the fruitful rewards of his hard work with family.
Therefore, I believe that encouraging these people to reintegrate into the society should be the core of optimizing the CSSA unemployment allowance. The focus is not on the resource, but to throw in more resources in the short term to help the unemployed CSSA recipients rebuild their lives. Today, my fellow lawmakers have suggested various specific measures to tackle the problem. They include reinforcing employment training, job search counseling and encouraging employers to recruit etc. I am convinced that all these steps are necessary.
What is more important, however, is that the government should start being compassionate towards those in need. The government should propose deeper and more personalized measures to assist them. For instance, let social workers follow up on cases of long-term unemployed CSSA recipients and arrange counseling and support according to their situations. When the government comes across people who have given up on themselves or are anxious about work stress, psychological counseling should be arranged for them. As for people who do not know how to prepare for job interviews, relevant training needs to be provided for them. I believe these long-term dole recipients are mostly introverted individuals; they might not make the effort to ask for help. Therefore, if the government initiates care and support for them, the outcome shall be even greater. Although these tasks will utilize a lot of resources, I am firmly convinced that it is worth it. The government could collaborate with voluntary organizations to implement these initiatives for more desirable results. Moreover, I very much agree with suggestions of some of my fellow legislators, especially with increasing the maximum amount of “disregarded earnings” of the Support for Self-Reliance Scheme. By raising the level of disregarded income, we can encourage the recipients to continue working.