Most respondents did not benefit from government help survey finds

Cleaning workers at a refuse collection point receiving face masks from the Diocesan Commission for Labour Affairs in February.
Cleaning workers at a refuse collection point receiving face masks from the Diocesan Commission for Labour Affairs in February.

HONG KONG (SE): A recent survey carried out by the Caritas Community Development Service showed that most respondents did not benefit from the Anti-epidemic Fund launched by the Hong Kong government. Moreover, a large percentage of them could not apply for Working Family Assistance because they worked too few hours according to the requirements. The findings were announced during a press conference on April 29. 

The Caritas Community Development Service interviewed 102 people from the grassroots through its service centres in Kowloon, the New Territories and on Hong Kong Island through questionnaires from March to April, looking into their employment and financial situation during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic to find out whether the relief measures of the government were of help for them. 

Around 20 per cent of the respondents were in the service sector as salespeople or waiters. Seventeen per cent were construction workers, while over 15 per cent were cleaning workers. 

One third of respondents said they were unemployed and over 80 per cent of them said they had been unemployed for one to three months. Twenty per cent said they were underemployed. Nearly 20 per cent said they had been dismissed, while nearly 15 per cent said they took a pay cut. Only two per cent said they were not affected by the pandemic. 

The general income level of the respondents was substantially reduced. The median of the income for a family of three before the pandemic was $18,000, while that during the pandemic this fell to $7,900, which is far lower than half of the median of general households in Hong Kong.

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Nearly half of the respondents said they had to apply for different kinds of subsidies over the past year to support their living needs, such as Working Family Allowance, the School Textbook Assistance Scheme, as well as subsidies from the private sector. But 75 per cent of them said they did not meet the requirements for the Working Family Allowance as their working hours were cut during the pandemic.

The group believes that the requirement for the allowance should not be linked with the number of working hours, so that underemployed people can be supported during economic downturn.

Facing the income problem during the pandemic, 75 per cent said they tried to look for new jobs in their old fields or in other fields, or look for part time work. But less than 10 per cent said they succeeded so most respondents needed different kinds of subsidies. Fifty-seven of the respondents applied for subsidies from the private sector such as the Community Chest Anti-NPC Rainbow Fund, while 27 said they benefited from the anti-epidemic fund of the government; three joined the Comprehensive Social Security Scheme. 

The number of respondents who benefited from private sector funds was greater than those helped by government subsidies, according to the survey. 

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they did not benefit from the Anti-epidemic Fund because it was their employers or the business owners who applied for the fund and directly benefited from it. In addition it was only allocated to specific sectors. 

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The survey said that the third round of the anti-epidemic fund should cover different sectors instead of targeting a number of business fields.

The government announced that the unemployment rate from January to March this year was at 4.2 per cent, which is the highest in nine years. 

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