Too poor for one square meal a day
Lo Wei and Ng Kang-chung
Low-income families in the city cannot afford even half the price of a square meal needed for a balanced daily diet, according to a study.
The Oxfam Hong Kong study released yesterday found that an adult needs to spend more than HK$66 a day to maintain a balanced diet, but this is more than double the HK$30 a day that low-income families can afford.
Carried out in the past two months, the study was based on a seven-day menu of nutritionally balanced meals for working adults and children aged between six and 12.
Oxfam warned rising inflation would only make matters worse.
'Spending on food already eats up some 40 per cent of the income of many grass-roots families,' said Wong Shek-hung, an Oxfam advocacy officer. 'So with prices rising, all they can do is eat less.'
Only breakfasts and dinners were included because most students eat their lunch at school and most working adults eat out for lunch, according to Oxfam.
The diet is based on the food pyramid promoted by the Department of Health and guidance from a dietitian, with prices of the ingredients from 19 markets determining the average daily cost.
The total average daily food expenditure for working adults is HK$66.60 and it is HK$47.50 for children, according to Oxfam.
But in its own study, Oxfam found that families on low incomes can only afford HK$30 per person for food every day, meaning a daily shortfall of HK$36.6 for working adults and HK$17.50 for children.
Hong Kong's inflation was 5.7 per cent in August, according to the Census and Statistics Department, which identified private housing rentals and food prices as the two main contributing factors.
The year-on-year food price increased by 11.7 per cent in August, and the government has warned that inflation is likely to rise further in the coming months.
Wong suggested the government offer a food subsidy to needy families of at least HK$390 a month to help them maintain a balanced diet.
A project worker at the Community Development Alliance, Chan Yu-cheung, said food allowances could be given to those in need based on the transport subsidy scheme model.
The Oxfam report estimated that a subsidy would cost the government about HK$3.1 billion for three years.
'This amounts to 2.2 per cent of the total social welfare expenditure in the Hong Kong government 2011-12 budget,' the Oxfam report said.
A government spokesman said yesterday it would study the Oxfam report before it made any comments.
A recent report on global wealth found that one in six families with children go hungry in Hong Kong.
It described the children as being in a state of high food insecurity.
In light of the situation, the South China Morning Post ran a campaign last month to help the city's key food banks - the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Food for All - Short-term Food Assistance Service and the People's Food Bank run by St James' Settlement.
The campaign has raised more than HK$1 million, which will be used to help the charities provide more fresh food to families on low incomes.