Workfare was introduced in many countries to suppress welfare dependency and reduce social security expenditures. However, workfare was launched in Hong Kong when there was only a relatively small social security budget and its citizens still strongly adhered to the ideologies of self‐reliance. It was found that workfare has performed several functions in Hong Kong. First, by forcing unemployed claimants to give up benefits, Hong Kong has been able to save on social security expenditures. Second, workfare has combined with Hong Kong's semi‐democratic polity so that extremely stigmatising welfare measures have been implemented. Third, it has pushed poor citizens into the labour market without having any protection over wages and working hours. Thus, the combination of workfare and a semi‐democratic polity has successfully suppressed Hong Kong's welfare demands and strengthened its self‐help spirit. As a result, Hong Kong's minimal social security scheme and its low tax policy have been maintained.