There are a number of major developments in the social welfare system of Hong Kong over the past 60 decades. With hindsight, one is to see the shifts in the government’s role in the provision of social welfare services, from that of an entirely passive one in the 1950s to a relatively active one in the late 70’s and to that of a pro-active HKSAR government since the transfer of sovereignty. The following essay will be commenting on the development of social welfare in Hong Kong before and after 1997. In particular, the development of housing, social security and education policies, which are regarded as the pillars of social policy will be discussed in details. The essay will also discuss and suggest how the political, economic and socio-cultural factors affect the development of social welfare policies in Hong Kong.
Changes in Housing Policy before 1997:
The importance of housing policy in Hong Kong should never be ignored for it extends “far beyond the issue of shelter to that of social and also economic welfare.”1 There are a couple of fundamental changes in housing policy in the past 70 years. In the 1940s, there was no “public housing policy” as such, 15 and 30 per cent of the population were living as squatters and in substandard and inadequate housing respectively.2 Until 1953, the government has been adopting a laissez-faire3 attitude towards housing policy, leaving housing allocation in the hands of market. The Hong Kong Housing Society, established in 1948 with the aim to provide low-cost housing was the only governmental organization which was responsible for housing policy during the relevant period.
The year 1953 should be recorded as the milestone in the development of Hong Kong’s housing policy, for the first public housing policy was launched in this year, after the broke out of the fire in Shek Kip Mei squatters’ area, leaving 50,000 people homeless in one night. The gravity of the housing problem was highlighted by the fire. Resettlement then became the main agenda of the government’s housing policy. In 1961, around 700,000 people were resettled by the colony’s housing policy.4
In 1973, the government introduced a ten year plan with the eventual aim of housing 1.8 million people in self contained units by 1982 in order to eliminate all squatter areas and to solve the problem of overcrowding. However, the plan failed to meet its target and was extended for five years time.
Changes in Housing Policy after 1997
After 1997 and just before the economic crisis, Mr. Tung Chee Wah declared a new ten year housing plan in his first policy address. This ten year plan was even more ambitious than the one launched in 1973, which sought to produce 85,000 apartments a year- 59 per cent from the public sector and 41 per cent from the private sector – with the aims of raising home ownership to 70 per cent by 2007 and to halve the average waiting time for public rental housing to three years by 2005.
Factors affecting the development of housing policy before 1997: Economic Factor
As far as the first public housing policy was concerned, the policy was launched in 1953, right after the Shek Kip Mei fire, as an immediate respond to the pressing social needs of the fire victims. More importantly, the policy was initiated for economic reasons, which were to reduce the cost for looking after the homeless, to diminish the risk of future squatters’ fire, to recover the land on which the squatters had built and to provide a labour supply that would be conveniently located near the major industrial area where the squatters would be relocated.5
Therefore, although 700,000 people were housed in 1961, the quality of housing was poor. This was accountable as one of the reasons giving rise to the 1966 riots according to a research done by the government-appointed commission of inquiry.6
Factors affecting the development of housing policy after 1997: Economic Factor
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