Inflation empties pockets and lai see packets of the poor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Lunar New Year is supposed to be a festival during which families and friends gather for big meals and to exchange lai see packets.

But such celebrations will be off-limits this year for poor people hit hard by inflation.

'I don't dare think about the Lunar New Year. I will not go out. Everything will be expensive during the festival,' a 58-year-old Mong Kok resident living on social assistance, nicknamed Ah Lin, said. The woman receives HK$1,830 a month, or about HK$60 a day, from the government to spend on food and daily necessities. But rising prices mean that the money soon runs out.

Prices were going up every month, she said. A packet of rice, which cost HK$52 in December, cost HK$7 more last month.

'I'm having one meal a day, or two meals at most. In the last week of a month I can eat rice but not other dishes,' she said. Preserved tofu or soy sauce is the only flavouring she can add to the rice.

A 60-year-old woman in a family of four in Kwai Chung, with a monthly income of HK$14,000, said: 'Usually I buy fish for the family gathering, but I won't celebrate this year.'

The two women are not alone.

Both live in districts where the prices of food and daily necessities went up more than 10 per cent in a year, according to a survey conducted by several concern groups, including the Concerning CSSA Review Alliance, the Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre and the Community Development Alliance.

The groups compared prices of 21 items last month with their prices listed on C9 Web, a local website for housewives, a year ago. Sixteen items saw a double-digit increase, and the average increase for all 21 items was 21.5 per cent.

Fruit topped the list, with prices rising by nearly a third, while fish, vegetable and pork prices rose nearly 20 per cent.

The figures are much higher than the government's inflation statistics, which show a 3.5 per cent increase in the Composite Consumer Price Index (A).

The groups said inflation in some districts, many of them the poorest in Hong Kong, was more serious than in others. Price increases in Kwai Tsing and Tuen Mun - where household incomes were the third- and fifth-lowest in the city - were 32 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, much higher than Sham Shui Po's 12 per cent.

Rent rises could have pushed prices higher in districts where The Link Reit's wet markets had a monopoly, researcher Au Yeung Tat-chor said.

The groups said the government should introduce a subsidy for low-income families to encourage people to work instead of shifting to welfare.

A spokeswoman for the real-estate investment trust said an internal analysis showed food prices at its markets were not higher than at government markets in general, and rents at its fresh markets showed no correlation with the prices charged.