Hong Kong’s Democratic Party has urged the government to hand out HK$15,000 to each resident to help them meet day-to-day needs amid rising inflation.

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Members of the Democratic Party at a press conference on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Addressing reporters at a press conference, the party’s chairperson Lo Kin-hei said the government needed to “take care of Hong Kong people” as rising global interest rates increase the cost of living.

He said the sum – given out in the form of cash or consumption vouchers to be spent at local businesses – should also be distributed to people below the age of 18 so that families with children can benefit.

Hong Kong’s consumer inflation rate reached a seven-year high in September, jumping 4.4 per cent year-on-year. Economists have attributed rising inflation rates to the global economic recovery amid Covid and the Russian war on Ukraine.

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A HSBC branch in Central. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The government has provided handouts every year since 2020 in a bid to ease economic woes brought on by the pandemic. In 2020, Hong Kong residents received HK$10,000 in the form of a transfer to their bank accounts. Over the past two years, authorities distributed HK$5,000 and HK$10,000, respectively to online payment accounts in an effort to encourage spending at local businesses.

The Democratic Party’s appeal comes ahead of the budget, which will be delivered later this month and outlines the city’s major spending plans for the coming year.

Mixed views

Opinions among lawmakers over whether consumption vouchers should be handed out this year are divided.

Pro-establishment parties – the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong – are supportive of a handout scheme. The New People’s Party, however, has said the government should not continue the scheme this time as Hong Kong has seen a budget deficit for the past three years.

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Convenor of the Executive Council and lawmaker Regina Ip. File Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The party’s chair Regina Ip said last month that a further shortfall would affect Hong Kong’s global competitiveness rankings.

Nevertheless, Lo said on Monday that it mattered whether taxpayers’ money was going to people, or controversial projects like the proposed artificial islands off Lantau, the potential benefits of which are uncertain. “The government’s reserves are not as good as in the past, but I think we can also look at how the government spends the money,” he said. The party also said the government should halt the project.

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Lo Kin-hei, chairperson of the Democratic Party, at a press conference on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Responding to a question from HKFP, Lo said it was less about whether the authorities have the resources, but rather, how they are used.

The party added that it had reached out to Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who will be delivering the budget speech, for a meeting but had not been able to arrange one.

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A pedestrian bridge to IFC mall in Central. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Political parties traditionally meet with the finance chief to raise their suggestions before the budget is announced. Lo said that, since Democratic Party members ceased being legislators in November 2020, when opposition lawmakers quit en masse in reaction to the disqualification of four of their colleagues, the party has not been able to have their annual meetings with top officials.

Meanwhile, most opposition figures are behind bars, have fled into exile or have quit politics in light of the national security law.

Three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions have dealt a blow to Hong Kong’s economy, with industries such as the tourism and the restaurant sector being particularly hard hit. The city’s real GPD shrank by 3.5 per cent last year, the government’s figures show.

Covid-specific subsidies, other relief measures

Beyond handouts, the Democratic Party also said the government should offer Covid-specific subsidies as Hong Kong enters the “post-pandemic era.”

“We’ve received [concerns from] residents who said they had ‘long Covid’ symptoms after getting the virus,” Sin Cheuk-nam, the party’s labour policies spokesperson, said, referring to symptoms that some people suffer from after recovering from the disease. He added that these people incur additional medical expenses.

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Sin Cheuk-nam, the Democratic Party’s spokesperson on labour policies, at a press conference on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“We suggest that [the government] can give a one-off medical subsidy for people who have previously tested positive for Covid,” Sin said.

The party said it did not have a figure in mind in terms of how much the subsidy should be, but said that recipients should have reported their infections to the government to ensure the mechanism is properly used.

Sin added that authorities should also consider issuing a one-time subsidy for people working in frontline roles where they have a high risk of being exposed to Covid-19, such as residential care home workers, cleaners and security guards.

The Democratic Party also called on authorities to set up an unemployment relief fund to support those who lose their jobs during economic downturns.

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Vacant shops in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Last March, during the city’s fifth Covid-19 wave, the government set up the Temporary Unemployment Relief Scheme to provide a one-off subsidy for those left jobless by the pandemic. Hong Kong does not have a permanent unemployment subsidy scheme.

Additionally, the government should offer up to HK$20,000 in salary and income tax, as well as waiving one month’s rent for people staying in public housing, the party said.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.