Middle Class IgnoredBack

Jennifer So-Kuen Chan
(Lecturer, Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, the University of Hong Kong)
Translated by Calvin Chun-Kit Chan
(Research Executive, Public Opinion Programme, the University of Hong Kong)

Note: This article represents the view of the author and not the University of Hong Kong.


The middle class has always maintained a low profile, but when the Financial Secretary clearly indicated a likely tax rise targeting at the middle class, they finally broke their silence. The Financial Secretary was elaborating the Policy Address of the Chief Executive. In fact, the middle class's resentment towards the government has long existed. According to the author's further analysis of a Policy Address follow-up survey conducted by the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong from January 23 to 28, the middle class was much more negative with CE's policy address, his policy direction, as well as CH Tung's personal popularity, than the general public (see table). The government should not underestimate this air of grumble clouding among the middle class.


Members of the middle class are always considered by the government as bearing the ability to work for themselves, thus they are also expected to make more contributions for our society. For example, the government proposes to raise the academic fees of secondary and tertiary education, while financial assistance to the underprivileged is guaranteed. As a result, the middle class is forced to pay even more on education and taxes. There are indeed many more policies like this, only that they are presented this time by the Financial Secretary as targeted specifically at the middle class. It seems that better public relations and promotion skills are needed.


The author would like to stress that, generally speaking, members of the middle class do not oppose to the principle of "more contributions by the capable ones", nor do they want to over-emphasize the confrontation between middle class and grassroots interests, which polarizes society. The middle class only wishes the government to give credit to their contributions, rather than turning to the capitalists whenever new measures are introduced. A proper use of resources by our government, as well as some thorough considerations in designing policies are also asked for. On the contrary, volatile and flamboyant policies, which waste the taxpayers' money, are surely not welcome.


Having to take care of themselves, members of the middle class normally want to have a good control of their future. Nonetheless, lay-offs and pay-cuts are commonly seen in our society these days, especially for the middle class. Because they are normally seen as "burdens" to their company, their risk of being laid off is also high. Is the Policy Address capable of outlining a clear prospect for us? Judging by our past experience, the author cannot help but casting doubt on the government's determination to implement the policies presented in the Address. Besides, the author is also unsure whether peripheral conditions are conducive to such policies. Facing the uncertain future, the middle class would generally save more money, and plan ahead for their retirement, because they know that they cannot rely on the government to help them amidst the aging population. However, under such economic hardship, there is very little the middle class can do.


Members of the middle class give great priority to their children's education. However, current education policies seem to have lost their direction and focus. Teachers and students are constantly flooded with all sorts of reforms, suffocating not just ourselves, but also our children. Loaded with such heavy pressure in work and everyday life, the middle class could hardly spare a second to consume, assuming that their savings was not yet taxed away. Their quality of life just keeps on crumbling.


The author clearly understands the seriousness of the budget deficit, and is also well prepared for more belt-tightening days to come. It is just that, in the Policy Address, apart from the many already-expected measures to plug the deficit, we find very few sincere and soothing words, not to mention definite answers to people's genuine need. Under the current economic downturn, the author would like to remind the government that it is about the right time to ventilate people's grievances, strengthen the cohesiveness of society, and raise people's spiritual life. The government should study how to pursue appropriate cultural policies to emphasize the importance of family life, spiritual arts, and the value of moral culture, in order to boost people's morale and revitalize society.

Table: Middle Class Sentiment
    Satisfied Half-half Not satisfied Don't know /hard to say
 How satisfied are you with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's policy speech? Middle class 9% 21% 50% 19%
General public 13% 22% 37% 29%
 On the whole, how satisfied are you with Tung Chee-hwa's policy direction? Middle class 11% 17% 65% 7%
General public 14% 20% 47% 19%
 Please use a scale of 0-100 to rate your extent of support to the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (with 0 indicating absolutely not supportive, 100 indicating absolutely supportive and 50 indicating half-half). Middle class Mean score=38.7
General public Mean score=45.5

Note: Among the 1,050 respondents (general public), 141 of them are classified as members of the middle class, with an education level of tertiary or above, or working as executives, professionals or semi-professionals.


Source: Further analysis by the author based on data supplied by the Public Opinion Programme at HKU