On Sunday I took a stroll through the Central area of Hong Kong. The upmarket shops are of course still open - Prada, Armani, Gucci - but the streets are closed off, and occupied by hundreds - no, thousands â€“ of Philippino women, mostly quite young.
These are Hong Kong's domestic servants. Anyone on a reasonable income can hire them, their minimum wage is 3200 Hong Kong dollars (divide by 13 to get UK pounds): some people, particularly the expatriates, pay more, but a number of people work out ways of paying less. And they have to have certain facilities like a room for themselves.
And they get Sunday off. So they congregate in their thousands in the streets of Central, squatting on the pavement, gossiping, and swapping photos of friends and family back home. The Western Union office does a fantastic trade as they all line up to send money home. The apparently modest income of a Hong Kong helper can support most of a family back home, in fact. So it's regarded as a great deal all round.
In the UK, by contrast, we seem to do our best to stop people hiring domestic help. Hire anyone in the UK and there is a mountain of paperwork to process. Try to bring a worker in from a poor country, especially a female one, and you ask the impossible. Pay less than 10,000 pounds a year and you're put in jail. So a simple way in which British families could improve their lives a bit, getting someone in to look after the kids, go shopping, clean the house, is closed off. And poor families in other countries stay poor. Isn't it time we opened up a bit, and made our aid to poor countries real and personal?