My Take

Hong Kong's widening wealth gap needs home-grown solution

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 3:28am

Some of the most deep-seated problems plaguing Hong Kong today - extreme social and income inequalities - are not something democracy alone can solve. While it is laudable that our community is becoming increasingly politically active, the fight for greater political freedom is only half the battle. We are neglecting the other half, namely greater equality.

As the Post reported this week, poverty and income disparities in our city are approaching record levels. The struggle for universal suffrage is, to a large extent, spearheaded by the middle and professional classes who have felt hard done by since the Handover. But the fight for greater equality has much to do with helping the poor and creating the conditions in which the next generation can enjoy greater equality of opportunity - in education and jobs. In this, we have much more work to do and are far behind.

Our poverty statistics are truly scary. Our wealth gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is at its widest in four decades and among the highest in the world. We hit 0.537 last year. Five years ago, it was at 0.533 and in 2001, it was 0.525. A study by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service using official figures estimates Hong Kong has 1.15 million people living in poverty, equivalent to 16 per cent of the population. Poverty among the elderly is especially disgraceful. Meanwhile, average income grew 60 per cent among the top 10 per cent of earners from 2001 to 2010, but it dropped by 20 per cent in the bottom 10 per cent.

Successive administrations refused to establish a poverty line. As Comprehensive Social Security Assistance or welfare recipients have remained steady between 450,000 to 460,000 in recent years, officials claim poverty is not worsening. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying deserves credit for finally agreeing to draw up an official poverty line, against which relief policies can be measured.

We are, of course, not alone in suffering a widening wealth gap. More than two thirds of the world's population lives in societies - both democratic and authoritarian - where inequalities have worsened since 1980.

But while our problems may be universal, the conditions are specific to Hong Kong, and require local understanding and solutions. In this, we cannot blindly ape western democracies as our guide.