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Targeting, Universalism and Child Poverty in Hong Kong
Child Indicators Research (2018)
  • Ka-wai, Maggie LAU, Lingnan University
  • Kee Lee CHOU
Concerns about the long-term effects of child poverty on individuals and society have 
been increasing. Urgent action needs to be taken to combat child poverty, but what is the best 
strategy likely to be? The relative effectiveness of means-tested versus universal schemes for 
poverty alleviation strategies has long been debated. Key differences include screening costs, 
targeting errors, incentive gaps and issues of financial sustainability. This article explores and 
compares the extent to which the Hong Kong SAR Government’s current means-tested 
Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme and alternative simulated 
means-tested and universal schemes could alleviate child poverty and income inequality. Core 
data for the study was taken from cross-sectional household survey data in Hong Kong. The 
study found that means-tested schemes with flat rates had higher adequacy in terms of the 
amount of benefits reaching poor households, than those with sliding scales. Targeting schemes 
had relatively higher exclusion errors compared to schemes with universal benefits. Evidence 
was found that that universal benefit schemes with flat rates had substantially greater impacts on 
all child poverty and income inequality indicators compared to the current CSSA and simulated 
means-tested schemes with flat rate benefits. The study is timely and presents a new and 
important opportunity to assess the extent to which a simulated policy change from 
means-tested to universal benefit could more effectively combat child poverty and reduce 
income inequality as well as achieve financial sustainability. The article concludes that more 
effective policy initiatives and approaches to child poverty and income inequality could be gained 
by varying dimensions, including: type of programmes (means-tested versus universal basis); 
benefit levels; and delivery methods (flat rate versus sliding scales). The projected expenditures 
of 42 cash transfer benefit schemes and four selected means-tested and universal programmes 
with the lowest and highest average costs can form the basis for future discussion on policy 
options to promote social and economic improvement for all groups.
  • Means-tested,
  • Universalism,
  • Child poverty,
  • Inequality,
  • Effectiveness,
  • Efficiency
Publication Date
Spring February 10, 2018
Citation Information
Ka-wai, Maggie LAU and Kee Lee CHOU. "Targeting, Universalism and Child Poverty in Hong Kong" Child Indicators Research (2018)
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