The 2019-20 budget has proposed the allocation of HK$20 billion for the purchase of 60 private properties to establish 130 social facilities. Since then, heated discussion has centered on the tremendous cost per property and the risk of pushing the red-hot real estate prices even higher.
I am urging everyone not to be sidetracked by these discussions but to focus on the benefits these social facilities would bring.
Closing the inconceivable service gap
While there are 100,000 children under two years old in Hong Kong, we only have 12 subsidized independent child care centers, offering a daycare quota of about 700.
Mothers typically have to submit application forms at the pre-natal stage, and even if their applications are successful, by the time a spot can be offered to them, it typically will be nine to 15 months after childbirth.
According to a study from the University of Hong Kong, our government has to provide a total daycare quota of 30,247 in order to meet the current demand; the current quota is meeting only 2.5 percent of what’s needed.
The government launched the Special Scheme on Privately Owned Sites for Welfare Uses in 2013, in an attempt to address the severe shortage of social welfare facilities.
The special scheme has received 63 project proposals coming from 43 organizations, but owing to the complexity of these projects, as of late December 2017, only three of them have been completed and are operational; another three are currently under construction and are expected to be up and running by the end of fiscal year 2018/19.
It will probably take more than a decade to complete all 63 projects. In other words, the scheme is actually a middle- to long-range measure which is not helpful in resolving the pressing demands coming from underserved young families.
Public policies are generally assessed by “three Es”: effectiveness, efficiency and economy. Compared to the aforementioned scheme, purchasing ready-built properties for social welfare purposes is apparently more efficient while similar in effectiveness. It is, however, too early to conclude if it is cost-effective.
Government must highlight the urgency
Disputes and skepticism regarding the property purchases result from the public’s lack of understanding of the benefits social facilities will offer.
People also likely have no idea how far we are lagging behind in the provision of social services.
The government is obligated to explain clearly the dire social service gap we are facing.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 14
Translation by Connie Li
[Chinese version 中文版]
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