SCMP Saturday, October 7, 2000
Poor people lazy and a burden: poll
Most people believe the poor are lazy and to blame for their own plight, a survey has found.
Hong Kong Policy Views, a pressure group on social affairs that conducted the poll, said the attitude created obstacles in tackling poverty amid a widening gulf between rich and poor.
Most of the 554 respondents interviewed last month through a random telephone survey linked poverty with individual responsibility. Nearly 70 per cent said laziness and a failure to do one's best caused poverty, while 61 per cent said lack of potential and a failure to compete were also causes.
Most people viewed poor people negatively - 68 per cent said slackness and lack of confidence and self-esteem were characteristics of the poor.
"Hong Kong people have had it instilled in them from an early age that one should depend on oneself and that it is immoral to depend on government," group vice-chairman Wallace Shiu Ka-chun said. "Hong Kong people are hostile to people receiving welfare, thinking they are lazy and that they just sit still and wait for others to feed them."
Mr Shiu said the findings reflected the fact that people in the SAR had little knowledge of poverty. "Most of them only blame individuals' faults as the origin of poverty, failing to look at the structural problem in society which gives rise to the problem," he said.
While 46 per cent of respondents said it was an individual's responsibility to get out of poverty, 40 per cent said the Government should give more help.
Mr Shiu added: "It is a paradoxical picture for Hong Kong people. On the one hand, they accept poor people and think government assistance is needed, while on the other, they think poor people are a burden on society."
The survey also found that 40 per cent agreed that poor people's dependence on society hindered social development.
"These hostile attitudes towards poor people certainly create obstacles to solving poverty," Mr Shiu said. "People fail to notice that poverty is due to structural change in society. Some people are forced out of the labour market even if they are more willing to work."
Dicky Lai Wai-leung, who organised the survey, said the Government had failed to define poverty with an income level because it wanted to avoid political pressure.
"The Government keeps refusing to do it because they think if the line is set too low, the number of poor people will be very shocking," he said. If the line was set too high, it would also bring criticism.
"But the Government should set one out as soon as possible because without such a line it is very difficult to set out goals to tackle poverty," he said.
The group said 65 per cent of respondents agreed the poverty line should be set at $5,100 - half the median wage.
Mr Lai said: "The Government also should not avoid adjusting dole payments, which are lagging far behind the median wage and living standards. It should also try to eliminate discrimination against dole recipients - other than taking care of their financial needs, their dignity should also be protected."