In the consultation paper of Long-term Social Welfare Planning in Hong Kong issued in 2010, it suggested that the introduction of shared responsibility with the aid of the Principle of User Pays as one of the guiding principles for social welfare planning. This resulted in a serious debate in the community for injecting the concept of User Pays Principle. This paper will take this opportunity to focus on the discussion of the background, the pros and cons of the User Pays Principle when it is adopting in the field of provision of social welfare in Hong Kong in the near future.
Suggestions will also be simulated for fine-tuning the current practices to make a tautly beneficial and more balancing way for the social welfare issues in Hong Kong. Background In respect of the dynamic and ever-changing features of social and economic conditions in the past few decades, Hong Kong Government appointed the Social Welfare Advisory Committee (SAC) to have an in-depth study on the long-term development of social welfare in Hong Kong.
This could assist in providing timely response to the welfare needs in our society. In 2010 April, SAC published the consultation paper of Long-term Social Welfare Planning in Hong Kong, which spent a significant part in expressing the guiding principles for social welfare lancing should include the concept of users’ participation, shared responsibility as well as sustainability.
To have a clearer picture of user pay principle, it can be defined as the attempt to make those receiving individual benefit accountable for the expense of that benefit. The application of user pays principle demonstrates the concept of individual and personal responsibility and liability in social welfare sector. The role and accountability of Hong Kong Government will be continuously stepped down, while individuals in the society will simultaneously bear more and heavier shares in the future.
The mechanism will also lead to a change in resources allocation of social welfare and social services, which can be interpreted as more market oriented or affordability-basis. At the following, this article will demonstrate my different points of view regarding various perspectives. For the Concept of User Pays Principle In Hong Kong, the current social welfare system is considerably well developed, including a wide range of developmental, remedial and preventive services for the general public.
However, many arguments suggested that the system with shared cost of using those welfare services would inevitably generate a sense of pungency for the recipients, remove their work incentives, create moral hazard for the whole society and reduce the motivation of improving the living quality of the citizens. This is particularly critical for those social welfare services that are relatively easy to be abusive, such as but not limited to the use of emergency medical services or public housing services.
According to the consultation paper of Long-term Social Welfare Planning in Hong Kong (2010): “When service users are active participants rather than passive recipients, one would expect them to contribute to the success of the service. The contribution could be in the form of cooperating with the service providers to achieve the desired outcome, and/or sharing the cost of service provision. The user pays principle is important in that it recognizes social welfare as a shared responsibility. ” (p. 6) The imposing of user pays principle, which is introducing the cost involvement of social welfare service to the public, is expected to bring up the issue and awareness for the community and, especially, the potential users of relevant social welfare services. Misuse and abusive uses of social resources can be reduced significantly. The principle also ensures more accountability and responsibility for the service user and thus reduces price undercutting by the public sector that aids the achievement of the economic goal of efficiency of the social welfare services.
Once the economic perspective is solely taking into account, based on the law of demand which illustrates the negative correlation between price and quantity demanded, there may be little doubt that people will demand or consume less social welfare services if they need to pay for the derived cost partially or entirely under the user pays principle. Generally speaking, user pays principle establishes the paying system in quantity-basis, which equals to the direct relationship between the amount of usage and amount to be paid.
Hence, Singing Education Web (2011) stated that the paying system of user pays principle will theoretically lead to a more effective usage and allocation of social welfare resources in Hong Kong. 2 Above mentioned effects resulted by user pay principle are perceived as positive influences for the social welfare sector in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, the said principle may have its own dark sides and that are the reasons for the society to be hesitate to adopt the principle.
Against the Concept of User Pays Principle As generally accepted in various countries and cultures, one of the major functions of social welfare system is to act as the market adjustment mechanism. In other words, the social welfare system (including but not only the social protections, employment policies and social services, etc) should play an important and proactive role to reduce the disparity of wealth as well as to establish a more harmony and equal community in Hong Kong through the resources re-allocation under the non-market mechanism.
If we project the scenario that the social welfare planning in Hong Kong is solely focused on the user pay basis, its function of performing as the market adjustment mechanism will possibly be deteriorated or even failed in the worst case. This phenomenon exceptionally fatal for the society during the period of economic crisis when the unemployment rate hits the peak and social stability tends to be at risk. A widened gap between the upper and lower income classes without the balancing effect brought out by the provision of social welfare may likely to result in an unfavorable scenario in Hong Kong society in its recession rides.
Under the user pay principle, the government may also have difficulty to provide the necessary social support to the ones who needed the support and subsidies most. Besides, I have little confidence that the implementation of user pays principle will be able to guarantee the social resources are directed where they are intended. Instead, social welfare services will become marketable commodity, while the range, type and amount of service provided by the sector may be increasingly determined by the criteria that which of those would be able to break-even, or even profitable as well.
This may only implies to the achievement of the goals of competition and efficiency, which may probably leads to a declining standards of social welfare services provided to the community. Chemung (2012) claimed that the dependence on individual responsibility actually reduces the access to adequate social welfare sectors (p. 72)3, such as the health care services for the underprivileged and this will discourages the use of some services that needs to be promoted. Suggestions Above demonstrations show the two-sided arguments that the user pay principle may arouse positive and negative influences to Hong Gong’s social elf services.
In fact, social welfare that planned by Hong Kong Government should be constructed by the specialized council and set up a decision making mechanism that leads by a variety of parties, such as the end-user of service, the government and other stakeholders to formulate specific directions like services planning and the details of resources allocation as well as the time table for the completion of the process. The Government of Hong Kong is recommended to undertake and comply with promoting the social equality and justice as the goal-oriented concept of social welfare planning.
They are also advised to take serious evaluation and review to further improve the resources allocation from the existing practice. By all means, it would be an ill-practice that the government relieves its own responsibility and reduce the resources that input into the social sector. They should emphasize on the citizen’s right to enjoy welfare services, altogether with the weak affordability among the lower income group in the society. Conclusion To conclude, this paper summarizes the implication of user pay principle has both benefits and costs to the society in short term as well as in the long run.