Hong Kong needs to step up efforts in poverty alleviation

December 03, 2018 17:06
Despite the booming economy, one in every five residents in Hong Kong is struggling with poverty. Photo: AFP

The latest Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report reveals that 1.37 million people lived below the poverty line in 2017, 25,000 more than the previous year.

The poverty rate rose 0.2 percentage point to 20.1 percent, meaning one in every five residents in Hong Kong is struggling with poverty, despite the city's booming economy.

The Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong wrote on his blog that the actual number of poor people after welfare support is factored in would be smaller.

He said that after government subsidies – e.g., Old Age Living Allowance and Low Income Working Family Allowance – are factored in, the population living below the poverty line fell to 1.01 million.

Law also said that as more young couples are living with their parents due to exorbitant home prices and rental costs, the situation has also somewhat distorted the calculations.

I couldn’t disagree more. First of all, even if only a million Hongkongers are living in poverty, it is still a pretty terrible situation.

Regarding the distortion due to young people living with their parents, that precisely reflects the poor living condition of the underprivileged.

Last week, Professor Chow Wing-sun of the University of Hong Kong wrote an article in Ming Pao about the poverty issue.

He told the story of a young man who passed away at an internet café due to overwork. The man took two jobs and earned more than HK$20,000 per month. But he has given most of his salary to his wife and children living on the mainland, but he himself lived in an internet cafe because he couldn't afford to rent a place.

Through this sad tale, Chow pointed out two root causes of poverty – low wages and expensive housing.

Poverty is in itself a very complex issue: it involves various policies relating to population, migration, land, industry structure, etc.

The government has set up a Commission on Poverty, chaired by the chief secretary for administration. The move is aimed at tackling the poverty issue by coordinating the efforts of different government agencies.

Indeed, the government needs to step up its efforts in fighting this scourge.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 3

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist