A high-powered commission needs to take concrete actions on youth poverty and political participation to empower young people, experts said on this week as they hit out at Hong Kong’s first development strategy on the subject as a “show”.
At its final meeting on Wednesday, the soon-to-disband Commission on Youth released a 68-page report summarising opinions it collected from consultations with the city’s young people from May to October 2017. The new Youth Development Strategy is intended to inform the work of the Youth Development Commission, which will take the other commission’s place.
To Siu-ming, a member of the commission since 2015, said moving from recommendations to a specific plan was the hard part.
“The biggest problem is to turn [the strategy] into substantial policies … it will depend on whether the Youth Development Commission will be able to motivate different government departments,” To, an associate professor at Chinese University specialising in youth development, said.
But one of those consulted during the study criticised it as superficial and unrepresentative.
Naomi Ho Sze-wai, youth organiser of Youth Policy Advocators, a concern group that was one of 105 groups consulted during the strategy’s formulation, said: “Its recommendations are not based on bottom-to-top consultations, but largely following and endorsing the government’s policies. We are disappointed.”
She said the consultation meetings were “just shows”.
The Youth Development Commission will replace the Commission on Youth – a 28-year-old advisory body chaired by the son of property tycoon Lau Ming-wai. The new commission was among youth plans rolled out by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address in October 2017.
It comes amid growing youth unrest in the city, as highlighted by 2014’s student-led Occupy protests for greater democracy.
To be chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the new Youth Development Commission is expected to “enhance policy coordination within the government”. The commission will include three members aged between 18 and 35 recruited under a government scheme aimed to provide more opportunities for young people to participate in policy discussions. The members have not been named, but it is widely expected that Lau will be deputy chairman.
According to the report, the key parts of a “holistic youth development strategy” are education, career pursuit, housing and financial independence, health, whole-person development, and civic participation.
The paper recommended that the new commission identify and address the causes of excessive pressure on students, create a diverse labour market by developing emerging industries, provide alternative accommodation options such as youth hostels, strengthen resilience in younger people, and establish multiple channels for their voices to be heard.
Both Ho and the city’s welfare sector legislator Shiu Ka-chun said the strategy fell short of giving an analysis of or solutions to two pressing issues – youth poverty due to rising education costs and stagnant salaries, and youth citizenship undermined by limited political participation.
Shiu said: “The report emphasises improving individual capabilities – in terms of finding jobs and buying a house – as if those who are more capable can better participate in politics naturally. But in fact, the existing political system has been excluding young people with dissident views.”
Lau Tsz-kei, student union president at Baptist University, said the strategy did not boost his confidence in the government.
“We can’t even exercise our rights to elect a lawmaker representing our voice – how can we believe that the government really cares about our ideas and participation?” Lau said.
Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who used to be the city’s youngest legislator, was disqualified by the High Court last July for failing to take his oath properly. Agnes Chow Ting, a young member of Law’s political party Demosisto, was barred from running in Sunday’s Legislative Council by-election because of the party’s advocacy of the city’s “self-determination”.
However To said that instead of focusing on specific solutions, more attention should be paid to the vision raised by the strategy – namely, “to provide an enabling environment” for the younger generation to succeed with their talents.
“The vision seems most important to me because fundamentally society needs to change its systems and mentality that blames the youth for their difficulties in areas such as education and home ownership,” To said.
The social work scholar also called on the government to compile a set of indicators to track and measure its youth policies. “One of the indicators can be median income of the youth but that’s far from enough. We must tailor-make an integrated measurement according to the policies’ goals,” To said.
In 2016, Hong Kong had 773,100 people aged between 15 and 24, accounting for 11 per cent of the population. As measured from May to June that year, the median wage for the age group was HK$11,900.
A spokesman for the Home Affairs Bureau said the Commission on Youth had recommended the Youth Development Commission “give priority to discussing issues that have cross-bureau implications”. The Commission on Youth will close down on March 31.