Knee-jerk fixes no solution to poverty
Li Keqiang was unlikely to have been aware of an Oxfam study on poverty in Hong Kong when he told officials during talks that there were 'certain problems that have to be resolved'. But his advice that the government should be 'practical and active' in solving the difficulties faced by grass-roots communities was pertinent indeed given the World Wealth Report 2011's finding that one in six families with children regularly go hungry. It is shocking to know that even though our city is so prosperous, there are many people who cannot afford to eat. While the government has tried a range of measures to help the poorest, it is clear that policies are still not as effective as they should be.
Authorities have been particularly focused on the gap between our richest and poorest, which has for several years been the biggest in the developed world. The most far-reaching measure to date, introduction of a minimum wage, has gone a way to alleviating the problem. But as the report detailed, there is still a long way to go: Although Hong Kong last year had more than 100,000 people with a net worth of US$1 million or more, there were also 144,400 families with children aged 15 or below whose monthly income was so low that it classified them as being poor.
The children of about 17 per cent of the 600 families interviewed had three meals a day just four or so times a week. Another one-third of households occasionally lacked enough food. Amid continuing general perceptions that the government pays more attention to the concerns of big business than everyday people, it is little wonder that the vice-premier would want to raise the matter.
Officials have responded to poverty with piecemeal fixes like handouts and giveaways and by encouraging tycoons to more actively contribute to society. But knee-jerk fixes, one-offs and voluntary schemes are no solution - what is needed is a properly thought out, well-structured, co-ordinated approach. Until that is in place, Hong Kong will continue to have an impressive number of rich and an embarrassingly sizeable population of poor.