The challenges of being single and living alone

May 18, 2017 10:13
Single-person households accounted for 18.3 percent of the total in 2016. Photo: AFS

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of single-person households in Hong Kong has continued to rise over the past decade, up from 367,653 in 2006 to 459,015 in 2016.

To put that in perspective, the percentage of our population who is single and living alone accounted for 18.3 percent of the total number of households in 2016, up 1.8 percentage points compared with 2006.

These single people come from all walks of life, different income classes and age groups. There are numerous reasons for people to stay single and live alone.

For example, some of them have decided not to get married for now, some of them are divorced and some may simply enjoy being single forever.

Whatever their reasons, the rise of single-person households has already become a social phenomenon in Hong Kong. The question is, is our government prepared to deal with it?

The answer is apparently negative. It is because the existing housing and social welfare policies of Hong Kong are largely family-based rather than individual-based. For example, as far as application for public rental housing (PRH) flats is concerned, priority is given to families, while young individual applicants are always put at the bottom of the waiting list.

Therefore, if you are single and aged under 60, chances are you will have to wait for decades before you can be finally allocated a PRH flat.

As a result, many young single individuals who can't afford to buy their own homes end up either living in ridiculously small sub-divided flats in appalling conditions or simply living on the streets.

In fact, according to government statistics, single-person households currently account for 31.5 percent of all sub-divided flat tenants, with the median rent at HK$4,200 per month.

Statistics also indicate that many single-person households are spending as much as 35.5 percent of their income on rent, and there is no end in sight to their woes because the majority of them are just not eligible for public housing.

On the other hand, when it comes to social welfare benefits, the needs of single individuals have also been neglected as well.

For instance, in order to raise the living standard of the grassroots and encourage them to find jobs, the administration has launched the Low-income Working Family Allowance program. As we can tell from its name, the program is intended only for families, but not individuals.

Perhaps it is time for the government to review its housing and social welfare policies altogether and start giving more support to single-person households, which are becoming more and more common in our society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 17

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member