Cage-home dwellers' incomes dwindle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2007, 12:00am

People forced to live in tiny quarters have not benefited from an improved economy, a survey shows

People who live in cage homes and partitioned rooms have not benefited from Hong Kong's improving economy and average incomes have dropped, a survey has found.

The Society for Community Organisation conducted the survey from July to September. It interviewed 202 households from 25 registered and 32 unregistered cage homes, and 266 partitioned rooms in properties with more than five rooms each. It found the unemployment rate had improved for cage-home dwellers, down to 30.9 per cent from 36.1 per cent in 2004. It also improved for lodgers of partitioned rooms, to 16.4 per cent last year from 30 per cent in 2004.

But over the same period, the median monthly income dropped. The median income for those living in cage homes and some partitioned rooms was HK$3,400 and HK$3,250. This reflected a drop of 15 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, from HK$4,000 for cage-home dwellers and HK$5,000 for people living in partitioned rooms. In 2004, 10.2 per cent of room lodgers earned less than HK$3,999 a month. This rose to 21.2 per cent last year. Although 57.1 per cent of people living in partitioned rooms earned HK$4,000 to HK$5,999 a month in 2004, this has now dropped to 34.8 per cent.

The society's chairman, Ho Hei-wah, urged the government to set a minimum wage for workers to protect this group from a further decline in their living standards.

'Their living environments are critical. [Cage-home dwellers] get an average of 18 square feet per person. This has shrunk from an average of 30 square feet two years ago.'

Yu Mei-wan arrived from the mainland five years ago. She is not entitled to public housing until she has lived in the city for seven years. Her son and daughter, 20 and 18, arrived from the mainland in August.

'As soon as they got into the room and saw the size and the bed, they cried. In the mainland, at least the living conditions were not so bad. They are both studying. They do their homework on the bed,' Ms Yu said.

She lives with her husband and daughter in a 50-sq-ft partitioned room in Sham Shui Po, with a rice cooker, bunk bed, folding table and a cupboard. She rented another 30-sq-ft room for her son.

Ms Yu has just become unemployed and the family relies on her husband's monthly income of HK$6,500 as a security guard. The two rooms cost HK$1,900 a month.

Choi Lam-on has been living in a partitioned room for six months, in a building near to Ms Yu's home. The 48-year-old pays HK$1,150 a month for his room in a flat where there are six other households.

'You won't know what it is like until you've lived there ... You have to queue to take a shower and sometimes it takes until midnight for your turn in the bathroom.'

There are about 124,500 people living in cage homes or partitioned rooms, the society said.