Lam: Focus on social welfare as economy has “little to worry about”

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Government spending on social welfare and poverty alleviation has surged by 71% in the past five years, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam this week.

“Building an inclusive community is, and will continue to be, my government’s priority,” said Lam at the launch ceremony of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Hong Kong on Monday, adding that some 60% of the government’s recurrent budget is spent on education, social welfare and medical services.

“Coupled with our record-high fiscal reserves, and the many opportunities available to Hong Kong under the two major national initiatives, that is, the Belt and Road and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area development, we have less to worry about our economy at the moment,” said Lam. “The economic outlook for 2018 remains positive, and we have now an opportunity and the necessary resources to do more in terms of promoting social inclusion and environmental protection.”

Carbon down, education plus up

Lam added that they have set a target of 65% to 70% reduction of carbon intensity by 2030, by means such as gradually replacing most of the coal-fired generation units with cleaner energy sources and encouraging development of renewable energy. These were in addition of continuing to inject funds in education, social security and medical services, while lowering profits tax rate for small and medium enterprises.

Let’s all get along

Lam then emphasized during the speech that her government will try its best to deal with rising social discontent, widening income disparity and a general growing sense of disconnect between the government and young people.

It is perhaps not surprising to see such topic is seemingly one of the major priorities for the government to solve, especially for those who have followed the city’s political developments in the past couple of years. The outburst of the Umbrella Revolution, which happened in the summer of 2014, was a clear evidence of the local people’s discontent with the government.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by US-based research organization Gallup International has polled 5.3 million people around the world, and has revealed that Hong Kong is ranked the seventh least happy in the world, behind war-torn places such as Iran, Iraq, and Ukraine. This coincides with another poll that suggested 52% of locals are unsatisfied with the social welfare and sustainability of the city, while the 18-29 age group stood out as the most unhappy citizens.

“Housing is the obvious concern for us. I don’t see how I can move out from my parents’ place anytime soon seeing the housing price is tens, if not hundreds times of my annual income,” said Chan who graduated last year and is currently working at a local accounting firm. “Then there are the usual political concerns, corruptions and bribery rumors…although, to be honest I am not even that pessimistic compared to my peers, in my opinion this city is blessed with no natural disasters, and no terrorist attacks, so it is not all bad.”

“Obviously it would be good if the government would actually do something to help us more, instead of just giving the usual formality speeches which do not really mean anything,” said the accountant who prefers to remain anonymous.

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