Knowledge of public policy and the perception of the efficacy of

(Forthcoming) Social Policy and Poverty in East Asia: The Role of Social Security
Editors: James Midgley and Kwong-leung Tang
London: Taylor & Francis
Chack-kie Wong and Kwong-leung Tang
This article looks into the case where those who receive poverty relief benefits from
the state, i.e., the welfare poor, are wrongly construed as the undeserving poor. Respecting the
rights of the minorities is important for social harmony and cohesion in any modern society.
Poverty relief welfare programmes are such a social arrangement which expresses the respect
for the rights and the protection of the well-being of minorities in societies. The rationale for
lending a helping hand to the poor and the disadvantaged is quite clear. The vulnerable people
are unable to make ends meet by their own efforts; the larger society needs to extend its
assistance. In this regard, welfare programmes are a public policy instrument which is also the
material base for the peaceful coexistence of a civilized society; it contributes to social
harmony and law and order; and it is for the common interest of the larger society (George &
Wilding, 1984; Jordan, 1996). However, paradoxically, welfare programmes for the poor are
rarely delivered on the basis of universal rights; their entitlements are usually tied with
eligibility tests by assessing applicants’ means, family situation, and even behaviours such as
employment motivation. Such stringent practice reflects the principle underlying welfare
programmes for poverty relief, that the applicants should be the deserving poor, meaning that
they are poor of not their own making. In the present global economic environment where
welfare states are under great pressure (Gilbert, 2002; Taylor-Gooby, 2001), a shift of
sentiment on the stringent side against welfare dependency is a common feature. In this
regard, it is meaningful to see when the welfare poor are wrongly construed as the
undeserving and whether such a misconception matters in terms of the perception of the
efficacy of welfare programmes.
We will first draw on the literature of the public perceptions towards the welfare poor
and the knowledge of public policies for conceptual and policy references. Then, we will
report in the context of Hong Kong, a modern Chinese society, in terms of its political,
economic, and welfare systems, where the welfare poor are construed as the undeserving poor
and the case of the extent accurate policy knowledge affects attitudinal changes. Finally,
findings of a telephone poll are reported to provide empirical evidence on the relationship
between public policy knowledge and attitudes towards the perceived efficacy of welfare
programmes in this study.
Social construction of welfare poor and knowledge of public policy
The undeserving poor are those who are perceived as choosing not to work, have
unacceptable moral values, and abuse welfare programmes for the poor. Hence, “who are the
poor” is important to the social construction of the image of the welfare poor. For example,
elderly welfare poor are rarely construed as the undeserving poor due to their inability to
work. There seems to be a hierarchy of public images about vulnerable groups and the poor.
For example, Cook (1979, p.155) finds that in the United States, overall speaking, the
disabled received more support than the poor; support seems to be greater the more serious of
the poverty and disability; likewise, the elderly received greater support than children and
people aged under 65. This hierarchy of public image in terms of support towards the
vulnerable groups fits well with the concept of the deservingness poor – people in poverty not
of their own making are deserved of public assistance; but vice versa to the undeserving poor
who are suspected of fiddling one way or another to obtain their “undeserving” benefits.
In below, we briefly present three possible explanations about the punitive and
individualist attitude towards the poor phenomenon. All these three explanations highlight one
important idea: Who the welfare poor are is important because it is associated with the
“undeserving poor” social construction.
First, the “working-class anger” view expresses the idea that those in the working
class are resentful of people with similar backgrounds who “choose” not to work and to
receive welfare benefits from the state (Cnaan, Hasenfeld, Cnaan & Rafferty, 1993; Cnaan,
1989; Lane, 1959; Taylor-Gooby, 1985). This view reflects a trust on the existing social
structure as acceptable and just; poverty is all about individual choice on the part of the
welfare poor; they can change their destiny by own effort for upward social mobility
(Hochschild, 1979). This view is essentially reflecting an intra-class rivalry situation, not
inter-class as we usually assume about a capitalist society, according to the Marxist theory.
For example, a British study on class consciousness finds that routine manual workers
roughly twice as likely to agree with the proposition that “there are too many scroungers
around” as non-manual workers (Marshall, Newly, Rose and Vogler, 1988, p.186).
It is important to say that, not only “working-class anger” is expressed towards the
welfare poor, but also the welfare benefits system is targeted in this social construction about
the undeserving poor. It is widely believed that an over-generous or laxly monitored welfare
programme has a disincentive effect (Golding and Middleton, 1982, p.176). In another words,
the allegations of “free lunch” and “welfarism” also reflect the “working-class anger”.
Second, the pathological view of the poor expresses the idea that the welfare poor are
morally problematic. Public perceptions of them are always affected by the association of
welfare dependency with pathological conditions, such as poverty, out-of-wedlock birth,
abortion, and crime (Cocca, 2002; Niskanen, 1996). This association has the effect of
undermining the attribution of poverty, inequality, and social discrimination to the broader
and more complex structural causes (Cocca, 2002). In other words, this is similar to the
“working-class anger” view, but most importantly of all, it has a stronger moral flavour – a
moral accusation laid on the welfare poor who are mostly unwed mothers and “welfare
queens” of the broken families in the context of the United States (Cocca, 2002), and they are
morally in the wrong due to their “underclass” behaviors (Gans, 1995:131) – sexuality,
criminality, and “abnormal” family life. Therefore, the welfare poor do not only have socially
undesirable behaviours, but they also are morally problematic.
Third, blaming the welfare poor is also driven by welfare reform initiatives. Policy
reform initiatives, which tighten benefits and impose conditions for entitlements, reinforce the
image of welfare abuse – welfare poor are scroungers who need to face punitive measures to
keep in line with normative standards of behaviors (Haworth and Manzi, 1999). For example,
the Clinton welfare reform in the United States is a case in question; it imposes a time limit
for pushing the welfare poor to employment. Similar workfare measures are adopted all over
the world. For example, in Hong Kong, the welfare review document of 1998 imposes
job-seeking and community service requirements as the preconditions for the employable
welfare poor for welfare entitlements (Social Welfare Department, 1998).
The above three possible explanations are indeed important to the “undeserving-poor”
social construction. Despite they are important by themselves in underpinning the public
image of the welfare poor, it is not the primary purpose of this study to empirically test them.
The main purpose of this study to see whether and how far public knowledge about the
welfare poor helps foster the perception of the efficacy of welfare programmes for poverty
and inequalities reduction.
Now, we come to the literature on knowledge of public policies. Empirical studies
show that people display different extents of knowledge of public policies. There are high
levels of knowledge (Abravanel & Cunningham, 2002; Blinders & Krueger, 2004; Zedlewski
& Holland, 2003; Taylor-Gooby, Hastie & Broomley, 2003). For example, a national survey
in the United States finds that one half of the general public can correctly identify six or more
of the eight scenarios describing illegal conduct according to the fair housing laws (Abravanel
& Cunningham, 2002). In the United Kingdom, people are relatively accurate about the
relative cost of the main components of state spending (Taylor-Gooby, Hastie & Broomley,
2003). There are also low levels of knowledge, even among welfare recipients (Anderson,
2002; Cancian, Meyer & Nam, 2005; Smith, Paul & Nina, 2002). For example, participants in
a Wisconsin child-support and welfare demonstration project had very low levels of
knowledge about child-support policy rules (Cancian, Meyer & Nam, 2005). Another study of
welfare recipients also finds that welfare recipients indicated limited knowledge and use of
program provisions, placing them at risk for penalties or benefit termination (Smith, Paul &
Nina, 2002). It seems that citizens have different extents of knowledge of public policies; and
it is hard to generalize patterns underlying public knowledge of policy due to difference in
complication of policy and even intention of government concerning the policy.
The primary purpose of this article is to explore how important policy knowledge is
for the support of public welfare. There are very few studies which look at this relationship.
Abravanel and Cunningham’s (2002) study finds some association between awareness of the
law, recognition of conduct perceived to contradict the law, and willingness to respond to such
conduct. Blinder and Krueger (2004) find that knowledge of policy-specific economic issues
did influence opinions on a number of issues, such as the willingness to cut social security
benefits and raise minimum wages.
The two above-mentioned studies identify a positive relationship between informed
policy knowledge and positive behaviour and attitude such as law-abiding behavior and the
social concern of the poor, i.e., raising the minimum wage. Except these two studies, the rest
of the above empirical studies (Anderson, 2002; Cancian, Meyer & Nam, 2005; Smith, Paul
& Nina, 2002; Taylor-Gooby, Hastie & Broomley, 2003; Zedlewski & Holland, 2003) did not
include a study of the effect of policy knowledge. Apparently, there is a gap in terms of the
extent to which knowledge of public polices affects citizens’ views towards the efficacy of
public welfare. In this article, we will use the knowledge of a public welfare and the
perception of the efficacy of welfare programmes such as tackling poverty, reducing income
gap, and expressing concerns and care of society to the vulnerable groups as illustration.
The report of a case study
The welfare poor in context
Hong Kong has a wide income gap between the rich and the poor; its gini ratio was
0.533 (0=complete equality; 1=complete inequality) in the latest bi-census report of 2006
(Census and Statistics Department, 2007). This is evidence of extreme income disparity.
According to the same report, the lowest 40 percent of households owned only 10.4 percent of
the total household income. This seems to be the material base for the social cleavage
between the rich and the poor. But this social cleavage did not happen at a time when Hong
Kong had a booming economy and the welfare benefits expenditure was not huge. Public
welfare benefits expenditure constituted about 6.0 percent of the public expenditure in the
financial year of 2005-06, catering to the needs of nearly three hundred thousand cases of
welfare poor, equivalent to about one-twentieth of the population.
Due to continued falling wages in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and
the 2000 global economic downturn, many lower-income people in Hong Kong now find their
household incomes even lower than those of welfare recipients. For example, the median
monthly per capita income of the 1st and 2nd decile groups was HK$2,415 (HK$7.8=US$1.0),
whereas the average welfare benefit payments for a singleton was HK$3,778 in 2001. 1
allegations of “free lunch” and “welfarism” aimed at those depending upon welfare benefits,
especially those immigrants from mainland China and the unemployed welfare poor (Hong
Kong does not have contributory unemployment insurance), are not uncommon in the popular
press and radio “phone-in” programmes. They allege that the government is too generous to
the welfare poor and this creates a welfare dependent class.
Paradoxically, the welfare poor hardly have comfortable lives, at least from their
perspective. Their welfare benefits, benchmarked against the cost of necessities such as food,
housing, and electricity, primarily aim at fulfilling basic social needs. But Hong Kong is an
affluent society; welfare recipients have vivid ground to complain that their benefit payments
are inadequate and many needs are not covered. In general, the standard rates of payment are
criticized as being too low in comparison with an average monthly income;2 many modern
household appliances, such as TV, refrigerator, telephone, not to mention internet connection
for school children, are not included. Even fees for children’s tutorial classes and
extra-curricular activities are often cited as example of the difficult life on public welfare.
There is a vivid example reflecting the subjective anger of the welfare poor: two of them, who
were both public housing tenants, took the Housing Authority, a quasi-statutory body for
providing cheap social housing for low-income households, to court. They alleged that the
authority’s privatization plan of the shopping malls and parking spaces might affect their
well-being – they might need to pay more bills that are expensive. Due to this litigation, the
Authority had to delay the listing of HK$21.3 billion (US$2.7 billion) of its assets in the local
stock exchange.
This is an example of the social cleavage between the welfare poor and the larger
population, among the lower-class people and even with the government. Theoretically, the
working-class anger is usually directed at the “undeserving poor” – the category of poor,
primarily welfare poor, who are perceived as defying the working-class work ethic. As such,
there is legitimate reason to suspect that the “working-class anger” is wrongly targeted in this
case, because more than half of the welfare poor in Hong Kong are older people (Table 10.1)
who are supposed to fall into the “undeserving poor” category because they are unable to
work and Hong Kong does not have adequate retirement protection. In addition, the Hong
Kong Chinese still preserve the cultural tradition of respecting the older people. For example,
the first Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government3 declared “care for the older
people” as its top policy priority (Chiu & Wong, 2005, p.88). As such, the cultural factor, in
terms of knowing older people as the largest welfare recipient group, should add a positive
light to an image of the welfare poor as the deserving poor. Hence, this social cleavage may in
fact reflect inaccurate knowledge about the composition of the welfare benefit system. In
other words, there is a case to argue that the working-class anger against the welfare poor, as
expressed in the discourse of the popular media, may be corrected if there is a supply of
accurate knowledge about welfare recipients.
(Table 10.1 is here)
The research question
Our research question is straightforward: Is the public’s knowledge important in
removing the social cleavage between the welfare poor and the public? Human actions are
driven by a variety of factors: self-interest, even perceived self-interest; values and ethical
orientations, for example, empathy and moral obligations; and macro-structural factors such
as family, demographic, and economic changes. However, these individual and macro-level
factors can be mediated by institutional arrangements to produce different behavioral patterns.
For example, people in residual welfare states tend to be less friendly towards the poor and
less supportive of social welfare (Gever, Geliseen & Muffels, 2000; van Oorschot, 2000,
2002). As such, there should be a role for knowledge to play in the perception of the welfare
poor. If it is positive, it is important to know the extent of that effect. Apparently, there is a
gap in this particular aspect of the literature.
The case study and its larger context
A random-sampling telephone poll was conducted in May 2005 in Hong Kong. A
successful sample of 1,006 adult respondents, aged 18 and older, was obtained, with a
response rate of 50.4 percent. The response rate was similar to other telephone polls
conducted in Hong Kong. The sample is somewhat representative of the general population in
terms of sex and age distribution; but it is a more educated group with higher household
incomes, two particular features common to telephone poll respondents.
Hong Kong has a population of 6.8 million people, most of them Chinese. It is a
typical post-industrial society, with around 90 percent of its GDP coming from services. Most
of its manufacturing industries have already moved to the adjacent Pearl River Delta area on
mainland China since the 1990s, due to lower labor and supply costs there. But Hong Kong
remains prosperous, due to its strong financial and commercial activities. In terms of national
income level, Hong Kong is rich; in 2005 when the poll was conducted, its GDP per capita at
current market price was about US$25,000, a level on par with those of many western
Hong Kong does not have a western-style political democratic system; its head of
government, the Chief Executive, is elected by an 800-strong electoral committee; only half
of its legislature is popularly elected. However, Hong Kong has strong democratic institutions,
such as rule of law, free press, and free association. A robust civil society is most evident, an
example being the mass rally of a half-million people who took their feet to the streets of
Hong Kong to oppose a national security bill in July 1, 2003, the date when the people should
have celebrated the sixth anniversary of the handover of sovereignty from Britain to China.
However, in terms of social development, Hong Kong is underdeveloped in some
aspects, particularly related to social protection. It does not have a state pension; so the poor
have to rely upon welfare benefits as a safety net. Nevertheless, Hong Kong has a universally
provided old age allowance for those aged 70 and above. But the benefit level is low; it is
referred to as the “fruit money,” a social discourse indicating the meager amount and the
dissociation from welfare dependency. The recently established, forced personal savings
scheme – the Mandatory Provident Fund – will need 20-30 years to be mature enough to
provide adequate retirement protection for the labour force. However, the working poor are
not required to join when their income levels are deemed only sufficient for their bare
subsistence. In addition, Hong Kong does not have unemployment insurance. This means that
the unemployed have to rely upon welfare benefits if they have exhausted their savings. As
such, Hong Kong is unique in its underdevelopment in the social insurance system for the old
age and the unemployed.
In the two decades before the handover of sovereignty to the mainland China on 1 July
1997, unemployment was seldom a problem to Hong Kong and its Chinese population. The
respective rate was rarely above 3 percent, a rate regarded as full employment. Unfortunately,
the handover was followed by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 and the 2000 economic
downturn. The unemployment rate peaked at 8.6 percent around the period when the SARS
epidemic broke out in 2003-04. The unprecedented high rate of unemployment drove many
unemployed people to seek welfare benefits as the last resort for income maintenance. The
Asian Financial Crisis also unfolds the deep-rooted structural problems that the Hong Kong
economy is facing – with the out-going of many manufacturing industries to mainland China,
many workers find themselves with obsolete skills unwanted by Hong Kong’s service and
financial economy. As such, the over-supply of unemployed labor force pushes down the
wage levels of the low-skilled and unskilled.
The above briefing suggests that Hong Kong did not have a history of a large
population of unemployed welfare poor. The old aged once constituted three quarters of the
welfare poor in the 1990s when the economy was prosperous. The rest were other recipient
categories such as people with disabilities, ill health, and single-parents; seemingly they had
different appealing rationales supporting their deserving poor image. Even at the time when
this survey was conducted in 2005, the elderly welfare poor still constituted 50.6 percent,
dropped from 59.3 percent in 2001, with the unemployed welfare poor at 14.4 percent,
increased from 10.2 percent in 2001 (Table 10.1). It is in this context that we conducted the
telephone poll to see whether the knowledge about welfare benefits for the poor, an indicator
of public policy, is significant to foster the perception of the efficacy of public welfare
The measurements
In the telephone poll survey, we asked three questions to indicate the knowledge of the
welfare benefit system: 1) Which is the largest group having welfare benefits? 2) Do welfare
recipients have to pay if they consult private doctors? 3) How much does a single adult
welfare recipient get in a month? The first question indicates the knowledge about the
composition of welfare poor; the second and the third questions indicate the knowledge about
entitlement and benefits. They are specific policy knowledge. The insertion of the second and
the third questions is used to see whether, apart from the question of who the welfare poor are
indicating the conception of deservingness, the other aspects of the welfare benefits system
are also influential.
We also asked four questions, as a whole as the dependent variable, to indicate the
perception of the efficacy of welfare programmes. They are whether or not welfare benefits
can solve poverty problems, narrow the rich-poor gap, prevent people from committing crime,
and express concern and care of society (alpha reliability .5735, Box 10.1). We also added
other possible independent variables to our explanatory model. The first variable is welfarism,
adopted from the British social attitude survey (Jowell, Curtice, Park, Brook, Thomson &
Bryson, 1997:223), with six questions (alpha reliability .6280, Box 10.1), which indicate the
attitude towards welfare dependency such as the generosity of welfare benefits. Indeed, the
welfarism questions can be regarded as the proxy for the “working-class-anger” at the
ideological level. The six questions comprise of two categories; the first is about blaming the
poor on the basis of their personal faults such as work-shy, undeserving-poor nature, and
fraudulence (Questions c, d, and e Box 10.1 under welfarism); the questions in the second
category is about the benefit system, that it is too lax, discouraging mutual help, and too
generous (Questions a, b, and f, Box 10.1 under welfarism). The second variable is
government responsibility, with six questions (alpha reliability .6098, Box 10.1), which
indicate the role of government for social protection, ranging from job guarantee to regressive
taxation (Hasenfeld & Rafferty, 1989; Wong & Chau, 2003). The third variable is dependency
control, a single question about the willingness to apply for welfare benefits in case of
financial difficulty. This should indicate the extent respondents are willing to depend upon
welfare. The fourth variable is knowledge of welfare programmes, that is whether or not
respondents know the largest welfare claimant group. The fifth variable is also another single
question about the causation of poverty - whether it is a factor of personal failure or the
failures of social and economic factors or government policy. The last one is about allowing
welfare recipients to keep some money for emergency use; this reflects holding a friendly
attitude towards the welfare poor. In some sense, this “kindness” variable can be used as the
proxy, in reverse, for the pathological view about the welfare poor. The pathological view
assumes a hostile, punitive attitude towards the welfare poor; hence, it is very likely that its
reverse, i.e., kindness to the welfare poor by allowing them to keep some money for
emergency use, reflects its underlying, albeit contrary, nature.
We also added personal characteristic variables such as gender, age, education,
household income and welfare poor status (welfare recipients) to see whether the social
location of individuals matters (See Box 10.1). Generally speaking, socio-economic status
such as education and household income, and recipient status should reflect social class
orientations. They are also independent variables, but on a structural level, to empirically test
the “working-class anger” thesis, albeit it is not our primary purpose in this study.
(Box 10.1 is here)
The findings
It was found that only 19.5 percent of the respondents knew the right answer – that the
elderly was the largest welfare poor group in Hong Kong. 58.2 percent of them knew that
welfare recipients needed to pay by themselves if they consult private doctors, and lastly, 31.3
percent of them knew how much a single adult welfare recipient got (including all
allowances)(Table 10.2).
(Table 10.2 is here)
If the responses to the above three questions were taken into account, the respondents
did not possess accurate knowledge about the welfare benefit system. A cross tabulation with
personal characteristics finds that even the welfare poor did not exactly know the entitled
amount of a single-adult welfare poor; despite that they were likely to know that they needed
to pay by themselves for private medical consultation (not reported in the table). It seems that
the welfare benefit system is complicated. It does not have sufficient publicity; perhaps out of
fiscal concern. Due to the generally inaccurate knowledge respondents had to our three
questions, it is hard to know whether some of the answers were simply guesswork. The litmus
test is to examine the association with the efficacy questions (Table 10.3). In this test, it was
found that only the knowledge of old age as the largest welfare poor group has statistically
significant relationships with all four efficacy questions. The “private-doctor” question has
virtually no statistically significant association with any of the efficacy questions, and the
“welfare-amount” question only gets one statistically significant association, that is, with the
“narrow-the-rich-poor-gap” question (Table 10.3). These results are not surprising because the
“private-doctor question” may simply be common-sense guesswork. In the case of the
“welfare-amount”, it is difficult to be right because the local public debate about welfare
dependency focused on the ”welfare-amount” of three-person households as compared with
the respective non-welfare low-income households. This means that the average Hong Kong
citizen might be misled to believe that a high benefit level was the case - 59.6 percent of the
respondents chose higher benefits levels to the third question in Table 10.2 (not reported in the
table). As such, we select the “largest-welfare-poor group” question, together with the
above-mentioned explanatory variables and personal characteristic variables, to conduct the
coefficient analysis.
(Table 10.3 is here)
Table 10.4 is the results of the linear regression analysis of the perception of the
efficacy of welfare programmes. It shows that knowledge of the “largest-welfare-poor group,”
those endorsed government responsibility, willing to apply for welfare benefits in case of
financial difficulty, and kind to the welfare poor displayed significant regression coefficients
with the perception of the efficacy of welfare programmes; the coefficients revealed that the
higher the knowledge with higher endorsements. However, the higher educated respondents,
despite higher knowledge, found a less perceived efficacy of welfare programmes. These
significant variables and other insignificant variables accounted for 16.5 percent of variance
of the perception of the efficacy of welfare programmes.
In terms of answering the hypothesis whether or not public knowledge is important in
removing the social cleavage between the welfare poor and the public, we find positive
evidence as illustrated by the statistically significant relationship between knowledge of
“largest-welfare-poor” question with the perception of the efficacy of the welfare programmes.
Nevertheless, the strength of this association, as compared with other explanatory
independent variables, is not the strongest; the strongest being the “government
responsibility” variable (.114 of the former and .220 of the latter, Table 10.4). It is also
identified that, at the ideological level, the “working-class-anger” variable, proxy by the
welfarism scale, is not verified; literally it implies that people holding anti-welfarist
orientation or angry about the welfare poor are not particularly hostile or welcoming as their
average fellows towards the perceived efficacy of welfare programmes. However, at the
structural level, this “blaming-the-poor” variable, proxy by education, household income, and
welfare recipient status, is somewhat ambiguous about its relationship with the perceived
efficacy of welfare programmes. Whilst household income and welfare recipient status do not
have any relationship with the dependent variable, however, the lower-educated respondents
had a better perceived efficacy of welfare programmes. In this sense, lower-class people,
usually low-educated, should display the contrary, according to the “working-class anger”
(Table 10.4 is here)
The findings of the survey empirically prove that the misconception about the welfare
poor matters to the perception of the impact of welfare programmes for poverty relief. This
new knowledge contributes to our understanding of the positive relationship between accurate
policy knowledge and the perception of policy impact. We purposefully conducted a litmus
test to select the largest welfare group, i.e., the elderly welfare poor, for coefficient regression
analysis. Specifically, the knowledge of the elderly being the largest welfare-poor group in
this study has a statistically significant relationship with the perception of efficacy of welfare
programmes among respondents in Hong Kong. In other words, an accurate, specific
knowledge about who the welfare poor are is likely to associate with the perception of the
virtue of welfare programmes for delivering positive impacts to the larger society in terms of
poverty reduction, narrowing income-gap between the rich and the poor, preventing crime,
and expressing concerns of the vulnerable groups. These functions are always assumed to be
delivered by the welfare programmes for the poor, and are important means for social stability
(George & Wilding, 1984, p.219-20).
In this study, the positive relationship between accurate policy knowledge and the
perception of policy impact could be explained by the conception of deservingness associated
with the elderly. Of course, this is definitely a significant favorable factor towards welfare
programmes for the poor. However, it was mentioned earlier that the other independent
variable that was also tested, i.e., government responsibility, has an even stronger statistically
significant strength (.220 against .114, Table 10.4). In other words, the recognition of
government responsibility for securing a basic minimum for every citizen, regardless of his or
her merit is equally, if not more, important in the public discourse about public welfare for the
vulnerable groups in society. On the basis of these empirical findings, it looks practically
useful to employ both concepts to advance the interest of the vulnerable groups for forging a
harmonious and cohesive society.
This study also confirms the findings of earlier research that citizens display different
extents of public policy knowledge. In this specific case, respondents were poorly informed
about knowledge of the benefit system for the poor. This seems to be basis for an inter-class
and, often, intra-class rivalry as expressed in the case of the undeserving welfare poor social
construction and its public controversies. The empirical findings of this study imply that the
inter- or intra-class rivalry will be reduced if accurate knowledge is in good supply, at least in
the case of Hong Kong. Needless to say, the phenomenon of the welfare poor wrongly
construed as the undeserving poor reflects the lack of publicity on the part of the authorities.
If the empirical findings from Hong Kong can be generalised, simply accurate knowledge
about who the welfare poor are is likely to foster a pro-welfare view. We also mentioned
earlier that people in residual welfare states are less friendly towards the poor and less
supportive of public welfare. This study empirically proves that accurate knowledge of public
policy may mitigate such an unfriendly attitude even in a residual welfare state like Hong
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Source: On average monthly income from Census and Statistics Department (2007); on
average welfare benefit total payments, including standard rate and supplementary payments
such as rent subsidies; source: Social Welfare Department.
For example, in the case of an adult recipient, the standard payment is HK$1,630, that is
only 16.3% of the present average monthly wage nowadays in 2007.
When Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese sovereignty in July 1, 1997, it has become a
Special Administrative Region of China under the arrangement of “One-Country,
Two-Systems”, the other SAR of China is Macau.
Table 10.1 Recipients of welfare benefits system in Hong Kong
Major recipient groups
Old aged
Disabled & sick
Sources: 2001-04 figures are for financial year end, i.e., 31 March (see Hong Kong Annual
Statistics 2004; 2005 figures ending August 2005, accessed on 3rd October 2005 (Social
Welfare Department website
Table 10.2 Respondents’ knowledge of the welfare benefits system
Which is the largest group having welfare benefits nowadays?
Right answer: elderly
If welfare recipients want to consult private doctors, do they need to pay by
Right: need to pay by themselves
Nowadays, what is the sum a single adult welfare recipients gets (including all
allowances) in one month?
Right: about $2,600 to $2,800
Table 10.3 Relationship between policy knowledge and perceived efficacy of the welfare
benefit system (%)
The largest group having welfare benefits
Wrong answer
Right answer
Need to pay for consulting private doctors
Wrong answer
Right answer
and care of
The sum single adult welfare recipient has in a month
Wrong answer
Right answer
*p<.05 **p<.01
Table 10.4 Linear regression coefficients for predicting respondents’ perceived efficacy
of welfare programmes
(N = 797)
Perceived efficacy of welfare
.165 ***
.220 ***
.114 **
.104 **
Government responsibility
Dependency control
Knowledge of policy (i.e., accurate about the
largest-welfare-poor group)
Causation of social problem
Kind to the welfare poor
.182 ***
Personal characteristics
Male (vs. female)
Household income
Non-welfare recipients (vs. welfare recipients)
-.094 *
*p<.05 **p<.01
Box 10.1: Explanatory variables
INCOME LEVEL gross monthly household income,
0 = female; 1 = male
0 = lowest … 5 = highest
0 = recipient, 1 =
1 = no impact; 5 = high
(Likert-scale, alpha=.5735, m=3.06, sd=.5681). To what extent
respondents agree with the following impact of CSSA: a) It has
solved poverty problem; b) It has shortened the gap between the
rich and the poor; c) It has enabled those with financial difficulties
not to take unlawful risks, and d) It has expressed concerns and
care of society for the vulnerable groups.
alpha=.6098, m=3.67, sd=.4935). To what extent respondents agree
with the statements of : a) The government should provide more
subsidies to the poor so that their children can have the chance of
receiving university education; b) The government should make
sure that everyone who is willing and able to work can have a job;
c) The government should guarantee a basic standard of living for
everyone; d) The government should make sure that there will be
nobody who do not receive proper medical care because of they do
not have sufficient means; e) The government should narrow the
income gap between the high income group and the low income
group, and f) People in the high income group should pay more tax
than people in the low income group.
1 = no responsibility; 5 =
much responsibility
WELFARISM (Likert-scale, alpha=.6280, m=2.79, sd=.5255). To
what extent respondents agree with the statements of : a) the public
1 = not support for welfare;
5 = support for welfare
welfare makes people nowadays less willing to look after
themselves; b) the public welfare encourages people to stop
helping each other; c) around here, most unemployed people could
find a job if they really wanted one; d) Many people who get social
security don”t really deserve any help; e) Most people on the dole
are fiddling in one way or another, and f) If welfare benefits
weren”t so generous, people would learn to stand on their own two
DEPENDENCY CONTROL (m=2.65, sd=1.3352)
Respondents” possible action when facing financial difficulties or
(Dummy) Whether or not respondents know the largest welfare
1= not depending on
welfare; 5 = depending on
0 = no knowledge; 1 =
correct knowledge
claimant group.
Respondents” evaluation on the major cause of poverty.
KIND TO THE WELFRE POOR (m=3.22, sd=.9822) Opinion
on whether or not welfare recipients can keep some money for
emergency purposes.
0 = no societal causation; 1
= societal causation
0 = not support for policy;
5 = support for policy
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