For a decade, social welfare in Hong Kong has been severely challenged. The government’s neoliberal approach to welfare has led to adopt residualist welfare system, thereby undermining social welfare as a powerful tool for securing human rights and justice. Without long-term planning, welfare spending has been steadily decreasing. The so-called flexible planning and funding mechanism has rendered social welfare to a sporadic, ad hoc services. As a result, there is a widening rich-poor gap, intensifying social stratification, and worsening of quality of life for the grassroots. Despite continuous demands from the public and the social welfare sector for the government to resume long-term planning for social welfare, the Labour Welfare Bureau (LWB) has shunned its responsibility by delegating the task to the Social Welfare Advisory Committee, which has no de facto authority. As the important role of Hong Kong’s social welfare system is undermined, autonomy of social services, the core values of promoting social justice in social have also been challenged to an unprecedented degree.
Today, Hong Kong has the widest rich-poor gap in all of Asia, with a Gini coefficient at 0.533, championing even Europe and the US. However, public expenditure on social welfare accounts for only 17% of total government expenditure (about 400 million). 75% of that is used in financial aid such as social security schemes, and only 25% is spent on other social services.
Hiding behind austerity as an excuse, the government has capped social welfare spending and created divisions among difference needs of grassroots. In numerous policy addresses and financial budgets, as well as the recent consultative document on long-term planning for social welfare, the government has not only ignored the problem of wealth disparity, but reaffirmed its policies of low taxation and rejection of using welfare as a tool for redistribution of resources. Even worse is the fact that citizens have begun to shoulder the burden of welfare spending with the implementation of different classes of social services: by putting emphasis on the principle of users pay, social investment, business donations and other financing strategies, the government has shifted the burden onto the society.
Social services providers have been expected to assist in creating the illusion of ‘harmony’, rendering social workers no more than technocrats used to establish control over the society. Exploiting the so-called ‘professional’ skills of social work, the government has strengthened the role of monitory and social control of social work, while weakening its importance in promoting human rights and securing social justice.
Ten major problems in Hong Kong’s social welfare
1. Biding by the neoliberal principle of ‘big government, small market’ and maintaining a residual welfare system while reducing the only existing safety net – the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA)
2. Reducing profit tax, import tax on wine, abolishing inheritance tax, strengthening wealth accumulation and intensifying wealth disparity
3. Implementing a population policy that discriminates against new immigrants and exploit their right to welfare
4. Political oppression of social services and the autonomy of social workers
5. Using flexibility as an excuse, the government avoids responsibility for a flawed planning system and funding mechanism
6. Undermining social welfare with Lump Sum Grants (LSG)
7. Competitive bidding of social service and commodification of welfare
8. Adopting the principles of user pays and ability-to-pay, thereby creating substandard social services, violating the equality of the right to welfare
9. Using ‘Government- business sector-public cooperation’ as an excuse, the government has introduced market principles into the welfare sector, thereby lessening the government’s responsibility in this area
10. Avoiding welfare planning by delegating the responsibility to a powerless consultative committee
We are a diverse group of concerned frontline workers, students, service users and academics. We establish the Progressive Social Work Network（PSWN）in a united attempt to resist the marketization of social services and social work, the stigmatization of service users and the reduction of welfare.
We are aware that social work is vulnerable to being hijacked and used by the government as a tool to control grassroots citizens. We strongly believe that the ultimate goal of social work is the care for humanity and the realization of moral practice. Social work does not only help people tackle challenges in daily life, but also strives to eliminate the roots of inequality and oppression in modern society. Progressive social work must probe deeper to address the structural problems that are the structural cause of human suffering.
We believe that the majority of those who are committed to social services did not hope to assist the powers that be in social control. Instead, they aspire to walk with the grassroots of the society in pushing for real change for human and societal welfare. Yet the dominance of neoliberalism and managerialism has clearly undermined our ability to realize the core values of social work. Therefore we protest: ‘I didn’t come into social work for this!’ The difficult situation that we face today has prompted us to reflect on the true mission of social work and the role of the social worker.
– We are social workers who serve for the grassroots, and not tools that assist those in positions of wealth and power strengthen an unjust system and execute their flawed policies
– We insist upon the moral practice of social work; that is, to care for the needs of service recipients as well as promote collective approaches in challenging unjust social policies and practices.
In order to adhere to the principles above, we must launch a campaign for progressive social work and social welfare, and insist upon protecting the spirit of social work that is to promote human rights, justice, democracy and equality. We must resist any oppression against social welfare and its service users in order to establish a society that respects human rights and secures social justice. As such, we propose ‘5Rs’ as our action plan:
1. Reaffirm: The core values of social service and social work should be defending the rights of the grassroots, securing social justice and promoting social change and the betterment of human welfare.
2. Reorganize: It is crucial to consolidate the collective power of social welfare stakeholders so as to exert enough influence on authorities in the social welfare sector. We must promote democratization in the management of social welfare agencies, develop a trade union and demand for the right to collective bargaining. We must also reorganize the power of service users’ participlation.
3. Recapture: We must recapture our say in social welfare planning in order to promote a just allocation of public spending, and to adopt regulations that prevent welfare sponsors from intervening in the autonomy of social services.
4. Reappear: Social workers should take up the roles of advocates, making critique and pushing for reform so as to promote social justice, human rights, democracy and equality.
5. Reestablish: To create a civil society that respects diversity so as to foster real social inclusion.
About Progressive Social Work Network（PSWN）:
If you believe that the goal of social work is to uphold justice and moral practice;
If you hope to strive towards higher goals in social work;
If you are willing to explore the higher possibilities in between theory and practice;
If you are unwilling to play the role of the submissive worker;
Let us work together to pave a truly progressive path in social work!