Sandwich class being ‘left behind’

Friday, July 2, 2010
Issue 1052, Page 4
Word count: 724
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Nearly 20,000 low-income residents, single parents, disabled people and chronic disease patients will receive extra financial aid from the Social Welfare Bureau (IAS) in August the latest. However, a local social service organisation is now more worried about the sandwich class in Macau who are not qualified to seek assistance from the Government amid rising inflation.

IAS announced three measures for the disadvantaged groups yesterday aiming to ease their living pressure as a result of the climbing prices of goods and services in the territory.

The latest official statistics showed that the inflation rate hit 2.76 percent in May, the highest reported since January 2009.

The Government thus plans to spend altogether more than MOP50 million to deliver additional two months’ financial assistance this month to the beneficiaries who are already in the scheme, as well as to double the amount of the special living allowance in August for the three disadvantaged groups – single parents, disabled persons and chronic disease patients.

The IAS financial assistance scheme gives low-income earners from MOP2,640 to MOP12,630 per month depending on the number of members in a family.

The amounts of the special living allowance are from MOP1,600 (one-member family) to MOP6,300 (eight family members or more) and are delivered twice a year respectively in May and August.

According to chief of the IAS Family and Community Services Department Isabel Ho, there are 10,425 people from 5,277 families who will receive the regular financial assistance this month. They are mainly low-income earners, people with serious illness and single parents, she added.

As for the special living allowance, Ho said it is distributed to the three types of disadvantaged families who earn more than the income ceiling for getting the regular financial assistance.

In May almost 8,150 residents coming from 3,272 families benefited from the special scheme, involving a total amount of MOP9 million, she said.

In addition, IAS has decided to extend the food bank initiative for six more months until January 2011.

Macau identity card holders who are not in the financial assistance network of IAS and at the time are jobless, homeless, or new immigrants, are eligible to apply for a six-week food assistance service.

Between July 28, 2009 and June 30, 2010, altogether 1,326 residents from 684 families had collected 166,000 meals from the food banks.

Ho said more than half of these beneficiaries belonged to the low-income group, followed by the unemployed and people who were waiting to get the regular financial assistance.

IAS director Ip Peng Kun told reporters the Government expected that prices of imported food items will continue to rise in the coming months.

Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On has said earlier that the Government would initiate a string of measures once Macau’s inflation hits three percent.

Help ‘still missing’

Asked about the situation of the sandwich class who is outside of the IAS financial assistance network, Ip Peng Kun said at present there are the cash handout, electricity subsidy as well as age pension schemes helping this group of people.

However, on the other hand Secretary-General of Caritas Macau Paul Pun Chi Meng is concerned about the hardships of lower middle class people, who are either not qualified to receive any Government aid or did not apply for it for some reasons.

Pun told the Macau Daily Times that cash handouts and electricity subsidies are not the best ways to counter inflation, adding that for a long-term the Government has to liberalise the electricity market, formulate a “healthy” housing policy, make private healthcare more affordable and also to cut the shop rental costs of small and medium enterprises so that a pay rise could be made possible.

“Hot money only flows into the pockets of a small group of people, and then the rest of us have to suffer from the impact,” he said.

Paul Pun suggested opening up a supermarket to sell discounted items to people in need. “Some of my students [of St. Brito School run by Caritas] have to save money and really can’t afford to have lunch outside.”

The Housing Bureau has recently proposed that the price of economic housing could be set at MOP1,100 per square feet, which Pun said is still “too expensive”.

He urged the Government to implement policies to encourage local people to rent rather than buy houses in Macau.

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