Views of the Hong Kong Social Workers Association (HKSWA)on the Social Welfare Department's (SWD) Fixed Funding Formula Based on Mid-Point Personal Emoluments (PE)
The HKSWA has reservations on the new proposal because it will put heavy financial burdens on welfare agencies, transfer the Government's responsibility of providing social welfare services to society, and have direct implications on the quality of services and on the development of the social work profession.
The salary scale for staff in welfare agencies is based on the civil servants' pay scale because the SWD and the welfare agencies provide more or less the same kind of services to users. Under the proposed fixed funding formula, subvention for each service unit will be calculated at Mid-Point PE based on the recognized staffing structure with a 2% deduction. Instead of offering full Provident Fund contributions, the Government will offer a mere 6.1% of average Provident Fund contributions under the new funding formula.
Not Attaching Due Importance to the Experience and Qualifications of Staff
In the social work profession, the seniority and experience of social workers have important implications on the quality of services. However, under the proposed subvention system, when the salaries of senior staff exceed the mid-point salaries, they will become a heavy financial burden for the agencies. In order to save money, the agencies will not choose the more experienced and more senior staff when they have to fill vacancies and introduce new services. Under the new proposal, the Government will not set out mandatory requirements regarding the qualifications of the staff. As a result, the agencies with tight budgets will employ diploma holders instead of degree holders to fill their vacancies. Such being the case, how can the quality of services be ensured?
Stable Environments Conducive to Development and Upgrading of Service quality
Under the original subvention system, the Government offers a stable economic environment for welfare agencies to develop. The agencies can provide appropriate and innovative services in response to social needs within the shortest span of time. If agencies are subject to financial constraints, how can they upgrade the quality of services when they are pre-occupied with the need to try all means to tap financial resources?
Transferring the Responsibility of Providing Welfare Services to Users and Society
When welfare agencies cannot cope with the financial pressure, they would transfer the cost of service provision to the users and the general public by way of raising service charges or soliciting donations. It is evident that the Government proposes such a formula because it intends to reduce its financial commitment in the provision of welfare services.
Employing a Uniform Method to Inject Resources for Services of the Same Nature
Some of the existing services provided by the SWD are identical to those provided by non-governmental organizations (NGO). If resources are injected into the SWD and welfare agencies under different funding formulae but one set of uniform standards is used for assessing their performance, the comparison will never be fair. The HKSWA therefore suggests the SWD should consider employing the same method to inject resources into the SWD and the welfare agencies for providing the same kind of services, or the SWD may review the division of labour between the Government and NGOs. We suggest that NGOs may take up the responsibility of rendering services to users, while the SWD is responsible for performing statutory functions and allocating resources.
Central Administration: Reducing the Administrative Workload of Social Workers
Social workers have always been responsible for the administration of NGOs. This results in a reduction of the time available for providing direct services to the users. Consideration should be given to increasing the subsidies offered to welfare agencies on central administration, so as to reduce the workload of social workers in undertaking administrative work.
In conclusion, the proposal is plagued with shortcomings. Under the new proposal, the agencies will surely suffer from financial hardship in the long run. The Administration should reconsider this proposal with a view to raising the effectiveness of service delivery and the quality of services.
Hong Kong Social Workers Association