Date
23 March 2017
If public housing is included in the calculation, the number of people living under the poverty line will drop by about 30 percent. Photo: HKEJ
If public housing is included in the calculation, the number of people living under the poverty line will drop by about 30 percent. Photo: HKEJ

Why more public housing is the best way to tackle poverty

At the final summit of the Commission on Poverty (COP) held over the weekend, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his government had been working aggressively over the past four years to eradicate poverty in Hong Kong by adopting several new measures.

Among them are the Old Age Living Allowance and Low Income Working Family Allowance.

Through his administration’s efforts, Leung said Hong Kong saw a significant improvement in the overall living standard of the underprivileged.

As he put it in his speech, his administration had made “ground-breaking” achievements in fighting poverty.

However, the actual figures suggest otherwise.

The two new allowance schemes might have lifted thousands of poor elderly and low-income families out of poverty, at least for now, but the present number of people living below the poverty line is still up 9,300 compared with 2014 and the overall poverty rate remains unchanged at 14.3 percent.

In other words, contrary to Leung’s claims, poverty has actually worsened.

Many social welfare experts have attributed the rise in the number of poor people to the deterioration of elderly poverty in Hong Kong.

According to government figures, in 2015, there were nearly 310,000 poor elderly in Hong Kong, up about 14,000 from 2014.

In fact, the number of working elderly in 2015 was about 91,000, almost double that of 2009, suggesting that more and more elderly have to continue to work after retirement and are struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck.

Apparently, our government is not looking after our elderly well enough.

In the meantime, Leung might have blown his own horn a bit too much over how he has successfully combated poverty but he was right about one thing — the key to effectively eradicating poverty in Hong Kong is to provide more public housing given skyrocketing rents and soaring property prices in the private market.

With 90,000 families living in sub-divided flats plus 290,000 applicants still on the waiting list for public rental housing flats, there is absolutely no room for complacency for Leung and his government when it comes to housing supply.

The problem is, with just a few months left in office, do Leung and his administration have the energy, determination and the time to take housing shortage by the horns?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 17

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at english@hkej.com

RA

Hong Kong Economic Journal

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