A Political Economy of In-work Benefits in Hong Kong

Research output: Other contributionThesis/Dissertation


In-work benefits (IWBs), a form of income protection for the working poor, are receiving increasing international attention in the social policy field. Informed by the theories of welfare political economy, this thesis sets out an analytical framework to bring together the dynamics of institutions, ideas, and interest-power in the capitalist context of Hong Kong (HK). The research adopts a critical realist approach to an intensive-qualitative method that explains the rise of IWBs in HK from 2007 to 2017. It also critically examines the characteristics of IWBs and the trajectories of their development as a policy approach. Against the backdrop of a mixture of authoritarian approach, liberal market economy, and residual welfare model in HK, there are three research questions: (1) What are the nature and features of IWBs in HK? (2) What are the main factors in the emergence of IWBs in HK? (3) What are the theoretical and policy implications of IWBs in HK?

The thesis reveals that labour market failure, the threat of closing the welfare-wage gap, budgetary surplus, business’ endorsement, and the introduction of a poverty line were the conditions giving rise to the government’s approval of IWBs in HK. The full-time and low-pay conditionality of IWBs are underpinned by a deservingness hierarchy and selective familialism, which is justified by varieties of work ethic. While this new form of new welfare relieves the fiscal burden of the working poor, its means-tested nature and tight conditionality discourages and marginalises some childless and precarious workers. Moreover, IWBs are arguably an institutional and geographical fix for the labour market in order to ensure its functioning and to increase the supply of workers. IWBs maintain the existing welfare relations of HK, yet they also display the tensions between a liberal labour market and the residual welfare model. While the complexities of pro-market IWBs come from their dual faces of wage-earner and employer welfare, incentive-led conditionality hides the exploitation in low pay employment and their disciplinary nature. Despite some research limitations, it is suggested that the political economy of IWBs in HK could contribute to social policy in general and specific policy changes.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD Thesis
PublisherUniversity of Sheffield
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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