Speech at Council Meeting-Members’ Motions “Addressing the needs of the middle class”


President, the definition of the “middle class” varies among different people.  Nevertheless, it is indisputable that the middle class plays an important role in Hong Kong’s socio-economic structure.  They are a backbone to political and social stability, and an important force in economic and cultural development as well.  In recent years, the middle-class people are not only facing the heavy pressure of life arising from “supporting the old and rearing the young”, but they also have to face issues such as childbearing decision, “inflation” of healthcare expenses, high rent or mortgage repayment burden.  The middle-class people in Hong Kong are also the mainstay of Hong Kong’s taxpayers.  They are, therefore, often joked about as having to “pay large amounts of tax but enjoy few welfare benefits”.

Many of Hong Kong’s social welfare policies are mainly targeted at grass-roots families, whereas the existing measures that benefit the people are also non-means-tested universal services and measures, including the Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme, free primary and secondary education and funding for higher education, public healthcare services; various tax allowances targeting working families which need to support children, parents or grandparents; as well as relief measures introduced under the Budget, such as electricity charges subsidy, reducing taxpayers’ salaries tax and tax under personal assessment, and providing rates concession and government rental waiver.  Although the middle-class people can also enjoy these support measures, most of such measures have failed to meet their most pressing needs, resulting in inadequate support for the middle-class people and middle-class families.  As such, it is inevitable that sometimes people would feel that the middle class is being neglected.

The Chief Executive has repeatedly mentioned the need to enhance the quality of life of all Hong Kong people and support Hong Kong’s pursuit of high-quality development through various policy measures.  It has also been mentioned in the Policy Address and the Budget that comprehensive consideration would be given to different sectors of the community for formulating appropriate measures to respond to the needs of different groups in society.

But in fact, the middle-class people nowadays have to maintain their competitiveness at work, while at the same time worrying about their children’s studies and future prospects, and they even have to support their parents’ healthcare and retirement protection.  They enjoy few social welfare benefits but shoulder a heavy burden.  With this in mind, I am much grateful to Ir LEE Chun-keung for proposing this motion today, so that the legislature can discuss the needs of the middle class.

I support the principle advocated in the original motion, which urges society to examine the plight that the middle class is facing from various perspectives, as well as to provide them with some appropriate and substantive assistance, so as to actively respond to their aspirations, and help them get out of their present predicament.

The middle-class people generally attach their utmost importance to the development of their children, hoping that they can receive good education in order to lay a solid foundation for their pursuit of development in society in the future.  Such being the case, children’s education expenses have all along imposed quite a heavy burden on the middle class.  Can the Government consider introducing a new tax allowance for children’s education expenses?  Some retired middle-class elderly persons can only live on their savings.  At present, they are not eligible to apply for the Government’s cash welfare for the elderly other than the Old Age Allowance, or the Old Age Living Allowance which is subject to an asset test.  With the trend of an ageing society becoming increasingly obvious, it is essential to strengthen the support for middle-class elderly persons.  Earlier on, there have been many voices, including the Liberal Party, suggesting that a middle class commission should be established to cater for the interests of the middle class and to respond to their different needs.  I think we should adopt an open attitude towards this.

As commodity and property prices continue to rise, the cost of living of and financial pressure on the middle class are ever-increasing.  Although they generally earn a higher income, their expenditures are also very huge and they have to bear a heavier tax burden.  While taking care of the overall interests of society, the Government should also formulate some appropriate support measures for the middle class separately, so that they can truly be benefited.  For instance, Hong Kong’s high interest rates in recent years have placed a heavy burden on the middle class in respect of mortgage repayment.  Should we appropriately raise the cap of the amount of home loan interest deduction, among others?

In addition, amid an intensely competitive environment, the middle class needs to continuously pursue enhancement and strengthen their abilities and competitiveness in order to cope with the challenges in their career development.  Therefore, consideration can be given to further increasing the existing tax allowance for self-education expenses, or providing more vocational and professional education and training programmes, or courses for obtaining professional certificates through the Government, etc., so as to enhance the professional qualities of the middle-class people, thereby enabling them to seek more development opportunities.

President, actively supporting the development of the middle class is conducive to the building of a healthy olive-shaped society in Hong Kong.  The Government and society should adopt more measures to meet the needs of the middle class, so as to contribute to the building of a healthy and stable idealistic society together.

I so submit.  Thank you, President.