Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hong Kong's Growing Poor Population

Over 1 million people in Hong Kong live on or below the poverty line
Following yesterday's news that someone paid a mind-boggling HK$1.16 billion for two flats on The Peak, today's story is another whopping figure -- the number of poor in Hong Kong could be over 1 million next year, even after taking into account cash handouts from the government.

The Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report for 2016 was released a few days ago and showed that 1.35 million of the city's 7.35 million residents were living below the official poverty line. When taking into account cash handouts, the number drops to 996,000.

Law claims the government is doing its best for the poor
To determine who is poor, the authorities only look at income and not assets. The poverty line is decided at half the median monthly household income according to household size.

Last year the poverty line was set at HK$4,000 per month for a single person, HK$9,000 for a two-person household, and HK$15,000 for three people.

"If income rises quickly and the [increase in] inflation is slower than that of income, then the poverty gap becomes bigger," said Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong on two radio programs.

Also last year the Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme was launched -- cash handouts for people living below or near the poverty line. They could get from HK$300 to HK$1,000 a month for adults, and HK$400 or HK$800 for children.

However, only 30,000 people benefited from the scheme.

Many of the poor are elderly with not enough savings
Last year the poverty figures were the highest since the city began measuring in 2009, with 7,000 more impoverished people than in 2015.

Law disagreed with criticism that the government made matters worse for the poor because there were more living near or below the poverty line despite the handouts.

"It's not that the government has not done more [to help], but that what it has done is not enough to close the gap," he said.

For someone who used to be with the Democratic Party and then quit in order to serve Carrie Lam's administration, this response is troubling. The government does not seem to realize that it's crucial to lift people out of poverty otherwise their numbers keep growing as we are seeing now.

The way to do that is to raise the minimum wage as Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung has suggested, as well as a non-means tested universal retirement scheme to help the elderly, as many of them are financially challenged due to inflation.

Some supplement their savings with collecting cardboard
Hong Kong is a very wealthy city, though the gap between the rich and the poor is widening so much that it's staggering how great the chasm is. And yet the government doesn't do enough to help the poor. Small amounts of handouts here and there are barely enough to feed people let alone help pay their rent.

There are a few who may own flats that are worth a lot, but if they sell, where are they going to move to? Or their place is so run down they can't afford to have it fixed up, so they are stuck in a dilemma too.

Decades ago, as long as one worked hard, they would be eventually pay their dues and be able to establish themselves. Nowadays working hard isn't enough to get ahead because of inflation and salaries remain stagnant.

Is the Hong Kong government really that blind to the situation? Piecemeal handouts are barely a band-aid solution to the issue. There needs to be a systematic way of accounting for every poor person in Hong Kong, figuring out their needs and finding an effective way to tackle them, be it low-income housing, social welfare, finding jobs or retraining.

The sooner this is done, the better, otherwise there are going to be many more people on or below the poverty line next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment