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14 AUG 2012

Position Paper on the Reinstatement of the Commission on Poverty

1. Introduction

Before its reunification with China in 1997, Hong Kong enjoyed a high level of economic prosperity,  but the distribution of income was among the most uneven in the world.  Against this background, in 1996 Oxfam Hong Kong collaborated with the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) to research and analyse the conditions of low-expenditure households in Hong Kong.  As a result of that study, Oxfam Hong Kong was the first to call for the establishment of an inter-departmental government working group to study the underlying socio-economic causes of poverty and formulate a poverty alleviation policy. Since then, we have been urging the government to set up an inter-departmental committee to study the incidence of poverty, define a poverty line and propose measures to alleviate this problem.

The outbreak of SARS in early 2003 induced a sharp drop in local consumption. The unemployment rate peaked at 8.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2003. In 2004 the outbreak had ended, but the economy remained in the doldrums. However, the 2004 Policy Address included no proposal to address the worsening poverty situation in Hong Kong. Oxfam Hong Kong was of the view that, as the problem of poverty was complex and involved various policy areas, the government should take the lead in engaging the community and coordinating various bureaus and departments in formulating a comprehensive policy to address the problem. Therefore, we once again requested that the government set up a central committee to address poverty.

After years of lobbying, in January 2005 the Chief Executive finally announced in his Policy Address the creation of a Commission on Poverty (CoP).  Just before this formal announcement was made, Oxfam Hong Kong had conducted a comparative study on poverty alleviation methods and strategies in selected countries and had made concrete and detailed recommendations with regard to the composition and the terms of reference of the CoP.

The CoP was formally established in February 2005, and was scrapped in June 2007. After the dissolution of the Commission, the government set up a Task Force on Poverty in October 2007, to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations made by the former CoP and to coordinate government efforts to alleviate poverty.

In his Election Platform, the new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised to revive the CoP as soon as he took office, as a way of demonstrating that easing people’s hardship was his top priority. The Chief Executive has already designated a preparatory committee to advise the government on the formation of the new CoP. Therefore Oxfam would like to take this golden opportunity to present its recommendations to the government on this issue. This paper first evaluates the work of the former CoP, then reviews poverty alleviation strategies and methods that different places have adopted. Finally, it makes a number of policy recommendations.

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