Honoring the promise she made in her election manifesto, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled a host of concrete measures in her maiden Policy Address to “connect” with young people and build a brighter future for Hong Kong together. In her eyes, young people possess enormous potential and the ability to drive the development of our society.
The government therefore should understand the needs of young people and prepare them better for a more active role in social development. More than that, she promised that she would do her best to ensure that the younger generation will be able to apply their talents and have fulfilling lives. Lam did try to address the needs of young people in three ways.
The most obvious is undoubtedly new efforts to tackle the housing problem. This is not just about young people’s aspirations for home ownership but also the high living costs and pressures they face. Latest figures indicate that private home prices have jumped up by around 226 percent and rentals up by 76 percent over the past decade, whereas the nominal wage index for employees up to the supervisory level has climbed by only 47 percent. Lam tried to deal with the issue by strengthening the housing ladder. Three measures, including the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Pilot Scheme, Scheme of Extending the HOS Secondary Market to White Form Buyers and “Starter Homes” Pilot Scheme, were announced. These aim to specifically help young people of different income levels so they can meet their housing needs. Moreover, a pilot scheme will be implemented to help meet strong demand in the rental market by facilitating the Hong Kong Housing Society to allow the owners of its subsidized housing units to rent out their flats to needy families.
Secondly, the chief executive tried to connect with the youth by taking more measures to help their career development. The emphasis on innovation and technology development underscores the government’s determination to develop this promising industry, which will benefit young people more than any others. The government has set a goal to double government expenditure on research and development as a percentage of the GDP to 1.5 percent in five years from the current 0.73 percent. Moreover, an additional tax deduction for R&D expenditure is proposed to encourage private R&D investment. A two-tiered profits tax system was also introduced in the Policy Address, as promised in the manifesto. The profits tax rate for the first HK$2 million of profits of companies will be significantly lowered to 8.25 percent - or half of the standard profits tax rate. This is expected to be of great help to SMEs as well as startups. These measures will not only give new impetus into Hong Kong’s economy, but also help tackle problems like slow upward social mobility. They will also provide high-quality employment to young people.
Lam also made great efforts to improve elderly care services. It seems odd to associate young people with elderly care service. But they are also affected by the problem of an aging population. They need to shoulder extra expenditure to deal with the increasing healthcare and retirement protection needs of the elderly. According to the latest population projections, the number of elderly people aged 65 and over is expected to more than double in 20 years. It is also worth noting that the elderly population will remain at over 2.3 million for at least 30 years. The overall dependency ratio is projected to rise from 397 in 2016 to 844 in 2066. With better elderly policies being implemented, young people can look forward to a brighter future. It is worth noting that the government will prioritize the provision of home care and community care to the elderly. It will do this by providing additional resources to enhance community and home care services — with the aim of achieving a zero waiting time. This effort will enable the elderly, especially those discharged from hospitals, to recover and enjoy life in a familiar environment and help ease the land shortage problem.
Many people look forward to the release of the annual Policy Address and expect the government to introduce beneficial policies, especially giveaways. But young people, blessed with talents and energy, should have a broader vision. The late US president, John F. Kennedy, said it well: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The chief executive has introduced several ways, including opening various government boards and committees to young people to engage them in policy discussions and research. It is now up to young people to take advantage of this.
The author is research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.