Wealth gap needs leaders' attention

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong prides itself on being wealthy and cosmopolitan. But nearly one in five people live below the poverty line, according to the Council of Social Service.

This is not how the government promotes our city, nor the way many locals see it. Clearly, such a large number of poor people and households cannot fail to have serious consequences for the government and society at large.

Shockingly, between 22 and 24 per cent of people in Yuen Long, Kwun Tong and Sham Shui Po are living below the poverty line, if the council estimates are correct. Poverty here is defined as those with incomes less than half the median income of the district they live in. A three-person household, for example, may be living on just HK$7,000 a month.

The council calls for more resources and services for the handicapped, the elderly and the young. This is right as far as it goes.

But to tackle the problem, the government needs to recognise it beyond merely paying lip service. In truth, officials from the chief executive down are still fixated on the concerns of the rich and middle class. Taking care of land and housing supply, by and large, addresses the concerns of the well-to-do, but does little for the needy.

The views of grass-roots representatives need to be better reflected when the government formulates key policies that affect them.

Across the mainland and in India, two of the world's growth engines, political leaders are fretting about the need for inclusive growth and to close, or at least narrow, the wealth gap. They are right to worry.

Hong Kong needs to follow suit, before the problem becomes a real crisis.