CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Complicated procedures stymie low-income family allowance scheme

HONG KONG (SE): A survey conducted by the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers (Kowloon) shows that it is hard for the families of ethnic minorities to apply for the low-income working family allowance. The centre called on the government to simplify application procedures to make it easier for families to avail of it.
The pastoral centre interviewed 145 people from ethnic minorities through questionnaires from December 2017 to January 2018. 
The survey reveals that many low-income families are unaware of the government’s family allowance scheme and that even those who are eligible for aid do not benefit because of the complicated application procedures. 
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they did not apply for the government allowance because they did not understand the details while over 50 per cent of respondents qualified for the full or half allowance.
Elizabeth But Ngan-ping, supervisor of the centre, shared the story of one of the respondents who studies in secondary school and also works to support his family. 
The boy’s family was forced to give up applying for the allowance because the government scheme demands proof that the monthly working hours of his father meets the minimum requirement. 
This upset the employer, as the father works on a flexible schedule and the employer found it hard to total up the hours. The boy feared that this would compromise the relationship with the employer and threaten his father’s job security.
The pastoral centre suggested that the government employ people from ethnic minorities to promote the policy and to help qualified families fill up application forms and follow up related cases. The survey showed that the language barrier is the main problem for the application. 
The centre recommends a comprehensive guideline be set down for the interpretation services and that related correspondence should also be translated into the various languages of ethnic minorities.
According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report on Ethnic Minorities 2016, the poverty rate of ethnic minorities has increased from 16 per cent in 2011 to 19 per cent in 2016. The poverty rate of people from South Asia reached 26 per cent. 
As of May last year, the Working Family Allowance Office had approved a total of 1,349 applications submitted by ethnic minority households.
The Low Income Working Family Allowance Scheme will be renamed the Working Family Allowance Scheme beginning 1 April 2018. The Working Family Allowance Office will organise community briefings from March to April to help the general public understand the details of the application arrangements, as well as the enhancements of the allowance.
However, But observed that people joining the community briefings are most likely well-informed and are already active within their own communities. She said the most deprived people within the ethnic minorities are usually those who tend to isolate themselves from the community. 
“For these people, it is better to reach out to them through government staff who are from ethnic minorities. As far as I know, there is no such people in the Working Family Allowance Office,” she said.

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