Hong Kong’s unemployed need HK$35,000 handouts as coronavirus accelerates job cuts among city’s poorest, charities say

Snow Xia

The government should give each jobless Hongkonger HK$34,800 (US$4,500) over six months and offer compensation to those who catch the coronavirus at work, according to a charity which has reported a fourfold rise in unemployment among the city’s poorest families during the health crisis.

Of the 324 people surveyed by Oxfam Hong Kong and Kwun Tong Methodist Social Service, only 32 were unemployed before Lunar New Year, but that figure had surged to 161 within two months.

The holidays started on January 25, the same week Hong Kong confirmed its first Covid-19 cases, which now number more than 450 citywide.

Not just low-income workers struggling as Hong Kong unemployment soars

The poll was conducted between March 16 and March 22 on 364 low-income families, who lived in a subdivided flat or earned a household income lower than 70 per cent of the city’s median.

They all lived in Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po, Prince Edward, Tai Kok Tsui, and North District.

The city’s official unemployment rate reached a nine-year high of 3.7 per cent in February.

Of the 161 unemployed respondents, 30 per cent said their employers or agents did not offer new job opportunities. Nearly a quarter (22 per cent), said they were laid off, while 13 per cent lost their jobs because their companies folded.

Moreover, 40 per cent of the respondents with jobs said their employers were considering firing them because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 75 per cent of those responding to the survey had no confidence in getting new jobs. Another 76 per cent said having short-term unemployment support would be helpful.

Some of the low-income households surveyed lived in Tai Kok Tsui. Photo: Felix Wong

Ho Yu-ying, a social worker at Kwun Tong Methodist Social Service, said Hong Kong did not have the welfare and insurance systems established by countries such as Britain, the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Ho said: “The application requirement of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance is too strict for most of low-income families.

“This system does not provide timely assistance to those facing short-term unemployment as a result of sudden economic problems like the coronavirus outbreak.”

Wary Hongkongers welcome cash handout, but wonder when they’ll get it

The survey respondents’ monthly income is below HK$6,230 and HK$31,850 for one and four-person households respectively, Oxfam Hong Kong said.

The charity has called on the government to provide those out of work with unemployment benefits of HK$5,800 per month for at least six months, as well as more training to help them find jobs, and compensation for those who contract the virus at work.

Number of coronavirus cases in Hong Kong rises by 43

Wong Shek-hung, project manager at Oxfam Hong Kong, said: “Setting up an unemployment insurance system can provide the working class with more security, but this involves the reform of the social system.

“In the long run, the government has the responsibility to look into how to establish an unemployment insurance system to help the unemployed.”

The Hong Kong government has announced a series of funding measures designed to support low-income families this year, on top of its welfare programme, the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

In February, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised a special allowance of about $5,000 per family for about 200,000 low-income families in Hong Kong.

The government's flagship policy in last month’s budget speech was a HK$10,000 handout for all permanent residents.

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