A social service umbrella group has urged the government to cancel the eight-week time limit on the city’s food bank services, which fed 33,000 Hongkongers last year.

Citing responses to a survey, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) told RTHK that 90 per cent of food bank users feared economic hardship once their eight-week time limit passes. The HKCSS suggested that users should be able to receive food for an indefinite period of time.

rice supermarket
File photo: Fiuodalsoar via Wikicommons.

The Social Welfare Department (SWD)’s Short-term Food Assistance Service is available for Hong Kong families earning a monthly income between HK$10,000 and HK$25,200 and with assets between $88,500 and $240,000, depending on the number of family members.

The department has commissioned seven non-governmental organisations to operate the scheme. Some organisations provide basic foodstuffs such as rice and canned foods, while others distribute hot meals. Apple Daily reported that 33,223 people applied for food assistance under the scheme in 2015/16.

Peace Wong Wo-ping, HKCSS’s chief officer for social security and employment, told RTHK that the food bank is effective, and that the SWD is currently able to exercise discretion on whether to extend food bank services beyond eight weeks for any recipient. He said that previously, the time limit on services was only six weeks.

But Wong claimed that it is difficult for recipients to apply for multiple extensions. “They presume you will make it [to financial stability] after eight weeks – even if you don’t make it, they treat you as if you’ve made it.”

“[After eight weeks] some organisations would take resources out of their own pocket to help people,” he said, “but this isn’t stable.”

He added that not all recipients are able to cook basic foodstuffs at home.

food market
File photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The Short-term Food Assistance Service scheme was launched in February 2009. In his 2015 policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised to set aside HK$200 million to fund the scheme until the end of 2017.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.