Comment on the Development of Social Welfare in Hong Kong

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Social welfare is the societal institution responsible for providing assistance to those in needs. This term was used in a narrow sense to refer to social security and social service like CSSA; elderly assistance etc that provided by the government and it also serves the interests of the society and works for people’s well-being. However, in this essay, the term ‘social welfare’ has a broader sense that it means the welfare people supposed to have. This essay will comment on the development of social welfare in Hong Kong and discuss the factors affecting the development of social welfare.

As the society develops, there are some new social needs in every stage of developing. Thus, there will be different types of social welfare to fulfill the social needs. So in this essay, the development of social welfare in Hong Kong is divided into 6 different phases. The phases of development are marked according to the social incidences which led to a change in the provision of social welfare. The Second World War plays an important role in the first phase, namely the residual social policy I from the early 19th century up to 1944. And the residual social policy II from 1944 to 1952.

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Then the partial social policy from 1953 to 1970. The big bang social policy from 1971 to 1977. The fifth phase is the incremental social policy from 1978 to 1997. And the last one is the modern social policy from 1997 to present. In Hong Kong, the development of social welfare mainly depends on economical factor, political factor, social condition, historical factor etc. In this essay, I will comment each phase clearly by these factors. 1. Residual Social Policy I, 19th century to 1944 Since the Opium War in 1842, Hong Kong was became British colony.

The British government adopted the ‘policy of economic and social non-interventionism’ in ruling Hong Kong. So the public expenditure of social welfare was mainly on the basic necessities. In this period of time, the social condition was very complicated since there was a civil war between the Nationalist Government and Communist forces in Mainland China in 1946. It caused a huge number of refugees came from China. As a result, there was an extremely rapid growth of the Hong Kong population. Secondly, China was involved in the Korean War in 1950. This led to the United Nations’ embargo against China.

Hong Kong officially enforced this ban and its trade was totally stopped. It led to a rapid increase in social needs. The problems relating to material relief, food and housing, epidemics, crime, public health, education and the restoration of social services were many and varied. However, the government had only lukewarm interest in providing social welfare to the people. In this period, social services were mostly provided by churches (mainly Christian & Catholic) and voluntary charities (Tung Wah’s hospital, Po Leung Kuk & clansman associations etc. . At that time, there were schools, hospitals, welfare service centers set up by those non-government organizations. Those orphans, young prostitutes, the elderly and the poor were mainly the target groups. There are three political factors and one social factor affecting the development of welfare of this period. The first political factor is the nature of government. The British government wanted the colonies to be as self-sufficient as possible. For whatever development, the colonies were to use own resources to support them.

In order to relieve such an administrative burden, the expenditure was greatly reduced and the expenses on improving people’s life would be largely decreased, so as the welfare on the public. The second political factor is frequent changes in governorship. In this period, governorship is about 4 to 5 years so there are frequent changes in direction on policy making and use of officers, hence, the new governor could to adopt or reject his predecessor’s policies. However, it is not healthy for maintaining a long run social policy. The third factor is the lack of central direction and local initiative.

Communication among bureaucracy hindered the enactment and execution of policy. Colonial government would leave the initiative to the Colonial Office in London but the Office would wait for local initiative. Moreover, the other international affairs such as missionary endeavor also preoccupied Britain government which causes the lack of central direction. So it hindered the enactment of social policy. The last factor is a about the Confucianism & social value. Since extensive family web in the traditional Chinese society will provide shelter and assistance for those who suffer from hardship.

And the traditional Chinese think that getting assistance from government is shameful. The characteristics of the social welfare in this period are mainly attributed by these factors. 2. Residual Social Policy II, 1945 to 1952 Generally, the background and comments of this period is similar as the last period but the factors affecting the social welfare are different. In this period, Hong Kong was facing the problems of post war reconstruction and there was an influx of refugee from the mainland because of the Civil War in mainland.

However, the colonial government was indifferent towards social welfare, and voluntary organization took up most of social services even the government set up its Social Welfare Department in 1948. The social policy mainly depended on two factors in this short period. The first one is a demographical factor. The civil war between the Nationalist Government and Communist forces in Mainland China in 1946 caused a huge number of refugees came from China. As a result, there was an extremely rapid growth of the Hong Kong population. By the end of 1946, there were 1. million people in the colony, compared to 600,000 people at the end of the war. (Tang, 1998) So there was an increasing demand for social care and assistance due to the influx of refugee and post baby boom. The government believed that these refugees would go back to their native village and families in China after the settlement of internal problems in China. Therefore, it saw no point in providing social services for them. In addition, if the government improved its social policies, it might encourage the refugees to stay in Hong Kong and attract more many such people from China.

It would cause a great pressure for Hong Kong’s long-term development. Another factor is a political factor. Since there was an increasing voice of the handover of Hong Kong to China and it affects the attitude of government towards social policy. If Hong Kong will return to China, there is no point to provide too much social services. These factors hindered the development of social welfare in this phase, and the social welfare policy showed the characteristic of the unresponsive colonial regime. 3. Partial social policy, 1953-1970

The second phase started from 1953 to 1970. Improvement in social welfare development was modest at the beginning of the period, but the government no longer adopted an unconcerned attitude. There were some limited implements in social policy such as subsidizing primary education, building resettlement estates and a ten year development plan of medical service. However, these implements were limited. Foe example, the government only focused on the subsidizing primary education and the goal was primary education for all children by 1961, but there was still a shortage.

In addition, the government did not expand secondary education and led the problem of not enough secondary places and the facilities in government hospitals were inadequate and there were not enough medical officers who were also with bad attitude to citizens. As a result, the public had to rely heavily on private medical care. Although the improvements are limited, it showed a slight departure from the ‘Relieving social policy’. Since the government no longer adopted an unconcerned attitude, the partial social policy…meant a departure from the unresponsive colonial regime. Tang, 1998) There are three types of factor affecting the development of welfare. The first one is economical factor of the financial exhaustion of the British Empire. Because the British Empire was facing the anti-imperial sentiment in the colonies during this period which involved heavy financial burden. So there was an incentive to reduce the expenditure of social welfare. That is why there were not many significant provisions of social services. Secondary, the social condition is also a crucial factor. There was a fire in Shek Kip Mei in 1953 which caused 50000 people became homeless.

This is the immediate cause which persuaded the government to fund and build 7-floor-high resettlement estates. Besides, however, there was no other significant improvement or provision of other social services. Until 1962, the government started building low cost housing as to solve the housing problem of lower income groups in Hong Kong. Moreover, there were two outbreaks of riot, one in 1966 which was caused by the price increase by the Star Ferry Company and one in1967 which was caused by the Cultural Revolution in China.

The outbreaks of riots threatened the stability of the British rule and then the government realized that it should provide more social services to comfort the discontented in order to prevent similar riot in the future. So there were some limited implements in this phase. The last factor is a geopolitical factor. After the Second World War, Russia and United State had a Cold war in many parts of the world especially in Europe but the power and influence of the superpowers was not yet universal. Hong Kong is a safe colony of Britain in Asia for settlement and investment.

So the British Empire was willing to retain the control over Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Britain is a partner of United State against the spread of communism. It caused Hong Kong became a strategic point in the policy of containment and Hong Kong became a ‘Fortress Colony’ against communism in Asia. In order to ensure the fortress colony is vital to the defense of the free world. Colonial office allocate funds for social welfare development in Hong Kong even there was a financial exhaustion so the development of social welfare in this period, the partial social policy, meant a departure from the unresponsive colonial regime. . Big bang social policy, 1971 to 1977 In this phase, there was a booth of social welfare expansion. More government interventions were developed on ‘four pillars’. The ‘Four Pillars’ were public housing, education, medical care and social services. For education, there was a great demand for education opportunities. As a result, the government introduced a free, compulsory and universal primary education. Furthermore, additional technical education would also be available. In order to support these policies, educational expenditure increased from $845 millions to $1891 million (Tang, 1998).

In medical care, the government introduced the second ten-year development plan of Medical and Health Service, as the first one launched in 1964 was almost completed and however many problems remained. The second ten-year plan suggested many new medical services, such as family plan and social nursing. In order to face the expansion in the quantity and quality of medical services, such as new hospitals, more doctors and nursing staff, more specialized units and the purchase of better equipment etc. , the medical expenditure increased to about 8. % of the total government expenditure (Tang, 1998). In social services, the last pillar of the four is social welfare. In 1971, the cash-base assistance had been introduced. Social security started after the White paper on social welfare in 1972 with the principle of public assistance scheme, followed by the old age and disability allowance. The first Five Year Plan published in 1973 following publication of the White paper was a new administration for the social welfare policy. The Plan was reviewed every year under the auspices of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee.

Representatives were also sent by the voluntary organizations to discuss changes in the Five Year Plan. Voluntary welfare organizations were invited to participate in the process of developing plans for rehabilitation, elderly service and social work for young people. Expenditure on social welfare was greatly increased, for example, $212. 5 million in 1974-75, which is 65% more than the previous year. For public housing, in 1972, the government introduced a ten-year plan with the eventual aim of housing 1. 5 million of people by 1982.

After that, a new Housing Authority was set up in 1973 which was responsible for planning, delivering and managing the ten-year housing program. Its objectives were to provide high-quality housing and to eradicate substandard housing. Because there was a great development of social welfare. I comment this period is the ‘Golden age’ of social welfare in Hong Kong. And there are some political factor and economical factor affecting the development in social welfare. The political factor is that the influences of the social crisis in late 60’s were brought forward to the 70’s.

Government wanted to gain positive public support in order to maintain a stable rule in Hong Kong. Therefore, the booth of social services is nothing but a reaction of government to defend its position in the colony. Industrialization and urbanization are the main economical factors of the booth of social welfare. Since industrialization increase incident of industrial and traffic, it caused the citizens called for the social services for both physically and mentally disabled such as the white paper on rehabilitation services in 1977.

Moreover, the resulting wealth of urbanization support the social welfare development well and government realized that the better social services would meet social needs and yield higher economic return, so the government was willing to provide more social services since this period. 5. Incremental social policy, 1978 to 1996 After the ‘Big Bang’ in 1970 to 1977, the social policy making in Hong Kong became incremental, dependent on the performance of the economy. In the beginning of 1980s, there were more public consultation and programmed plans of social welfare.

However, the government did not formulate any comprehensive and rational planning to meet new social needs. Only small-scale, problem-specific strategies, avoiding system-level planning or reform were encouraged. In this period, there were some implements of social welfare such as in 1979, the government published a White paper on the introduction of the ‘Home Ownership Scheme’. The scheme was aimed at the ‘sandwich classes of those middle-income earners because they were not eligible for public housing and could not afford properties priced on the private market. In the 1990s, 1,137 million flats would be built…291,000 of the 654,000 Housing Authority flats would be sold off. ’ (Cochrane & Clarke, 1993) It showed that Hong Kong’s housing policy tended to privatization. For education, the plan for 9 years’ free and compulsory education started in 1978. In the same year, a White paper on tertiary education was also published. However, new problems emerged about the quality of education, for example, too few places in public schools, increasing school drop-outs, inefficient planning, and the low status of the Chinese language in education.

The government spent years trying to solve these problems incrementally through the annual report of the Education Commission. There were also some provisions in other aspects such as the establishment of Health Authority. And the characteristics of the development in this phase are attributed to the demographical and social factor and the political factor. The demographical and social factor is that the growing number of the aged and the Chinese Confucianism. There was a great stress on obligations in human relationships and obligations of particular roles.

And the society was constituted under kinship and families’ ties. While large portion of men and women were not able to take care of their aged parents, it placed immense pressure on health and caring service. As the governor Patten said, “The government’s goal is to preserve and strengthen the family as the foundation of our community. ” Politically, there were some political changes in governorship in this period such as the retirement of Sir Murrary MacLehose replaced by Sir Edward Youde who focused on the negotiation over the future of Hong Kong rather than the development of the society.

After that, the governor Chris Patten implemented political reform which led to a rise on the public spending on social welfare. 6. Modern social policy, 1997 to present On the 1st of July, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China and becomes a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The government and the administration would be very different from the colonial system and the social welfare still in a piecemeal and short-termed nature. For housing policy, in order to achieve the aim of 70% home ownership by 2007, there were two schemes for providing housing loan to eligible ousehold. The Housing Authority provides loans to low income families under the Home Purchase Loan Scheme. Also, the government provides loans to eligible first time buyers under the Home Starter Loan Scheme. In 1999, the Buy or Rent Option (BRO) was introduced to give prospective public housing tenants the means to attain home ownership without going through the interim stage of public rental housing. Lastly, the Housing Authority is also considering greater private sector involvement in estate management and maintenance services.

In 2001, the government introduced a moratorium on the sale of Home Ownership Scheme flats for conducting a comprehensive review of the public housing framework in order to provide better services to the public. Despite tight government finances caused by the financial crisis, the government kept increasing its expenditure on education. Funding has surged from $37. 9 billion in 1996-1997 to $55. 3 billion in 2001-2002, a 46% increase over five years. In 1998, there was an important policy that the government introduced using Mother-tongue as the medium of education.

This policy would continue until the year 2004 for further consultation. In the policy address in 2001, the government stated that there is an aim in raising the standard of primary and secondary education. Furthermore, the number of post-secondary places needed to be increased, so that 60% of the senior secondary school leavers can attain post-secondary education. Last but not least, the promotion of bi-literacy and tri-lingualism, and continuing education, would also be supported by the government with considerable resources.

According to the 1997 policy address, the government would like to establish a legislative framework to recognize and regulate the practice of Chinese medicine, and the Chinese Medicine Ordinance was enacted in 1999. In 1998, the government hired a Harvard team to conduct a consultancy study on Review of Hong Kong’s Health Care system which public showed an interest in it as more than 2100 submissions of public consultation paper were received. In the financial year of 2001-2002, the expenditure on public health services was expected to be $33. billion, which allow the public to receive high-quality health care services. For the social welfare, the 1999 policy address suggested that it should introduce a competitive bidding process to allocate new welfare service units to allow greater flexibility in the use of resources and to enhance the cost effectiveness of welfare services. On the other hand, one school social worker was provided in each secondary school started in the 2000 academic year, to best meet the needs of young people.

About the CSSA, the government implemented a Support for Self-reliance Scheme to the unemployed recipients to encourage and help them to find jobs and become self-reliant. Also in 2000, the introduction of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) was also a major step in social policy. In the 2001 policy address, the government was committed to providing a reliable safety net as a basic guarantee for our citizens. Legal factor and economical factor contributed most in this phase. On the legal side, after returning China, the social welfare system has been kept and developed according to Basic Law.

As a result, the social welfare system is maintained after 1997, and is developed according to social needs in Hong Kong (Basic Law Article, 145). On the economical side, the economic recession in the late 1990s led to the government encountered a deficit budget. Therefore, it reduced the spending on social services or reduced the cost of social services by contracting out or competitive bidding. However, the government still decided to adopt the deficit budget to maintain the development of social welfare. Conclusion

To conclude, the development of social welfare in Hong Kong is mainly determined by the incidences that happened throughout the years. Once there was an events or something exerted adverse effects on stability of Hong Kong, the government will then do some thing and carry out corresponding services to deal with the problem. The Hong Kong government does not have a clear social goal so the social welfare results in a piecemeal and short-termed nature. This traditional concept of the government will limit the provision of welfare services.

The government’s priority on economics always hinders the development of social welfare. As the Hong Kong economy is highly vulnerable to international conditions, government is unwilling to take the risk to adopt large scale social plan and provide long term social services.


Chan, K. H. (1996). Welfare in newly-industrialised society: The construction of the welfare state in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, HK: City University of Hong Kong. Chow, W. S. (1986). A review of social policies in Hong Kong. In Alex Kwan (Ed. ), Hong Kong Society (Chapter 6). Cochrane, A. , Clarke, J. 1993). Making sense of social welfare in Hong Kong. Comparing welfare states (Chapter 5) Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. Hong Kong annual digest of statistics, various years. McLaughlin, E. (1993). Hong Kong: A residual welfare regime. Comparing Society (Chapter 5). Tang, K. L. (1998). Colonial state and social policy: Social welfare development in Hong Kong 1842-1997. New York, NY: University Press of America. Tung, C. H. , The policy address, (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001). Wilding, P. (1997). Understanding Hong Kong. Social policy in Hong Kong (Chapter 1)

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