Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who chairs the Commission on Poverty (CoP), said Hong Kong’s overall poverty situation remained largely stable, rejecting criticism that government measures to alleviate poverty were ineffective.
Cheung’s remarks came after the CoP released the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2017, which showed that the number of Hong Kong people living in poverty continued to rise and hit a record high last year.
According to the report, the city’s poverty rate rose to 20.1 percent in 2017, up from the previous record of 19.9 percent set in the previous year, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
There were 1,376,600 people in the city classified as poor before policy intervention, representing an increase of about 25,000 people from 2016. That means one in five people in Hong Kong lives below the poverty line.
In 2017, the poverty line was set at HK$4,000 for one person, HK$9,800 for a two-person household, and HK$15,000 for a three-person household, making as many as 594,000 households officially poor.
The number of poor people was brought down to 1,008,800 individuals or 419,800 households, translating to a poverty rate of 14.7 percent, after policy intervention, which includes recurrent cash benefits such as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, Old Age Living Allowance, Old Age Allowance and Working Family Allowance. The figures, however, were still at their five-year highs.
While the number of elderly people living in poverty dropped slightly last year with the elderly poverty rate down 1.1 percentage points, the child poverty rate edged up by 0.3 point, continuing a trend that has been seen since records began in 2012 when the CoP was re-established.
The report said Kwun Tong had the most number of people living in poverty at 160,000. The poverty rate in the district was 25.6 percent.
Asked why poverty worsened rather than improved despite policy intervention, Cheung said the government’s methodology is constrained by the fact that non-recurrent government cash programs as well as other services – after-school care, elderly care, home care, etc. – are not counted and thus not reflected in the before-intervention figures, since the government has to follow the international norm.
As such, Cheung said the after-intervention figures can better reflect the actual poverty situation in Hong Kong than the before-intervention data.
The CoP chairman stressed there has been an obvious improvement in the elderly sector, which he called very encouraging.
He pledged that the government will continue to step up efforts on poverty alleviation and encourage those who are needy and eligible for the allowances to apply.
Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung from the Labour Party said it worries him that Hong Kong’s economy, once it deteriorates, and the ongoing trade war between the United States and China could have a negative impact on Hong Kong economy and push the poverty rate to a higher level next year.
Cheung urged the government to launch the Universal Retirement Protection Scheme to help ease the poverty situation in the long run.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who is also a CoP member, asked the government to review the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme as the rising poverty rate indicated that the different allowance measures were not very effective.
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