New project to study effects of poverty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am


Two academics have launched a project that seeks to address Hong Kong's widening wealth gap by studying the effects of poverty on the poor.

The two-year project - in which 600 families will be interviewed and the Gini coefficient used - will be conducted by David Gordon, professor of social justice at University of Bristol's school of social policy studies, and Maggie Lau Ka-wai, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education's social science department.

'The Gini coefficient tells you there is income inequality but it doesn't tell you the situation and its effect on people,' Gordon said.

The Gini coefficient measures inequality across society. It is a number between zero and one. The lower its value, the more equal a society is. Hong Kong's Gini rose from 0.518 in 1996 to 0.525 in 2001, and stood at 0.533 in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available.

The figure indicates that wealth disparity in Hong Kong is among the most serious in the world.

'One of the major problems of poverty is that people have no money to participate in social obligations, such as attending weddings and funerals. It causes social exclusion and has a negative impact on health and happiness,' Gordon said.

'We want to look at the effects of poverty and what are the greatest ways to help.'

For the study, low-income earners and their children will be asked their views on matters such as food, personal computers, clothes, social obligations and school activities.

Last year, the median household income of the top-earning 10 per cent of the population was HK$77,000 a month - up HK$7,000 in five years, according to the Census and Statistics Department. The poorest 10 per cent of families became even poorer, living on HK$3,000 a month, HK$100 less than in 2006.

Gordon and Lau believe their research will also help to develop a set of indexes to measure poverty and its effects in the Chinese context. They will present the findings to the government to help it devise ways to eradicate poverty.