Help needed for unemployed grassroots: Soco

The Society for Community Organisation (Soco) on Sunday urged the government to provide support for unemployed and underemployed grassroots families, who they said were among those suffering the most from the economic impact of the pandemic.

People in these households work in sectors that had been hard hit by government restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, such as restaurants, and are among the first to have their wages reduced or sacked, said Soco’s Sze Lai-shan.

The group surveyed 365 people last month, with just over half of respondents saying at least one member of their household was currently unemployed.

Of respondents whose jobs had been affected by government restrictions, nearly 90 percent said members of their household had been made to take unpaid leave or work fewer hours.

“They cannot even afford to have three meals a day, or pay their rent, and some even become homeless,” Sze said, adding that they needed to take loans from relatives or banks, or take out debts on their credit cards.

She said it was difficult for these people to find jobs again, given the city’s high level of unemployment, and some operations in some sectors were still restricted by government measures.

She said the government’s HK$10,000 cash handout had been an effective form of support, but it was disappointing that these families couldn’t benefit from other schemes.

She said some had been unable to qualify for the Low-income Working Family Allowance, as they didn’t meet the eligibility requirements.

“The government said they will reduce the working hour [requirement], but that’s only effective in June – so actually, it cannot meet the needs of people in urgent need,” said Sze.

She said it was also difficult for families to approach the Social Welfare Department during the pandemic, and, in any case, assessment for assistance takes months.

We suggest the government have an unemployment and underemployment fund, so they can pay for these people’s assistance,” Sze said.

“So they can have some cash to pay for three meals [a day], for rent, and provide more training opportunities so they can have more skills and can change careers.”