The Consumer Council yesterday published its 2012 Annual Supermarket Price Survey. Overall, the aggregate average price of products in 12 main categories - including rice and cooking oil, canned food, milk and cleaning supplies - rose 6.8% in 2012 over 2011, with prices of many popular-brand canned foods and eggs even soaring up by 20%. This well shows that, with inflation showing no sign of abating, consumers increasingly feel helpless in face of diminishing purchase power to meet household needs.
The ongoing price hikes have lasted for more than one year already. A great variety of consumer products are affected, and causes for the inflation are very complex. The statistics unveiled by the Consumer Council yesterday were mainly based on its survey on the three major supermarket chains. As a matter of fact, considerable price hikes are also seen on other retail venues such as wet markets, stores, pharmacy shops and cafeterias. In the past, grass-roots people could have instead gone shopping at a wet market if they thought products on supermarkets were too expensive. But the ongoing inflation seems to penetrate everywhere. There is no way to dodge it.
Right now, beef seems to be the best example showing how strong the current inflation is. Since mid-2012, wholesale price of live beef cattle imported from the Mainland has been going up steadily. The causes include price increase in cattle feed, growth in domestic demand for cattle and sharp increase in transport cost. By now accumulated beef price hike on supermarkets and wet markets has reached nearly 40% on average. For similar reasons, prices of high-end beef imported from Australia, New Zealand, South America, the United States, Canada and Japan have also steadily gone up. Price hikes of beef from low-end to high-end have turned this otherwise primary foodstuff for Hong Kong citizens into a luxury. In the past, fried beef with vegetable was regarded as a common family dish. But now, many grass-roots house wives would best stop at a beef stall to ask about prices and then shake their heads and go away, or even simply pass by it instead. It is now not an exaggeration to say that a grass-roots family could " not taste beef for three months. "
Under such merciless price hikes, grass-roots citizens feel growing pressure on their daily lives. And a prominent problem now turns up : how to ensure elderly people's living standards not to further deteriorate and how to ensure children and teenagers to have sufficient nutrition for their growth? The SAR Government must address the problem and lend its help.
Early this month, the government began to dispatch the monthly $2,200 Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), popularly known as "Doubled Fruit Money (Old Age Allowance)". For this together with the $4,400 "retroactive pay", many needy elderly people felt as happy as having "a good rain after a long drought". Leung Chun-ying cares about disadvantaged groups in society. The first thing he pursued after taking office was to push for the introduction of OALA. However, the ongoing price hikes will soon quickly swallow such a small "windfall ".
Likewise, after the Chief Executive delivered his maiden Policy Address, the once-defunct Commission on Poverty was re-established with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as its head. The long-debated topic of setting up a "poverty line" was once again placed on the agenda. The Community Care Fund jointly sponsored by the government and business sector also continued to help alleviate poverty outside the government's mainstream schemes. Right now, it is time for the SAR Government, Commission on Poverty and Community Care Fund to fully show their loving heart and fulfill their duties.
A saying has it that "Water afar off quencheth not fire." It is true that the government's Food and Health Bureau, Commission on Poverty and Community Care Fund are all doing a lot of long-, short- and medium-term works to help disadvantaged people solve problems in their daily lives. But right now, for grass-roots and disadvantaged people, nothing is more down-to-earth and urgent than how to cope with inflation. In particular, many poverty-alleviation schemes and Community Care Fund projects focus on long-term poverty alleviation, but such a "running wild horse" as inflation won't wait. People have to pay cash when they go to a supermarket a wet market to buy daily foodstuff and necessities.
Therefore, some people used to propose that, during "extraordinary times" such as inflation, the government should dispatch a certain amount of "living subsidies" or "shopping coupons" to disadvantaged and grass-roots people with a reference to OALA and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) standards and family composition. This is a comparatively practical and feasible proposal worthy to be considered by authorities.
Needless to say, providing "living subsidies" is but a provisional measure, different from other long-term poverty alleviation measures. Thus it should just be adopted for a short period of time with an aim to help grass-roots and disadvantaged people gain a little breathing space and ride out the current predicament. If after careful studies, relevant authorities think this proposal is workable, it should be put into practice as early as possible to meet people's pressing need.
16 April 2013