• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 11:04am
CommentInsight & Opinion

City will pay high price if it ignores problem of poverty

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 3:45am

A widening wealth gap in Hong Kong is nothing new. But the problem has become so entrenched in recent years that the community risks becoming insensitive to the dangers that arise. Not only does it put pressure on the welfare and health care system, it also fuels social discontent and undermines stability. The challenge is not to be ignored.

Credit goes to the Council for Social Service for its relentless efforts in tracking the poverty trend in the city. Referring to the 2012 census statistics, the group warned that the number of people in poverty grew by 100,000 year on year, to 1.61 million. Elderly people were the hardest hit, with 32.6 per cent, or 298,000, classified as poor, up 10,000 from 2011. Worse, they are not just the poorest in the city, but also among the poorest in the developed world. The figures are a timely reminder that income equality is worsening.

Admittedly, the definition of poverty is open to debate. The council, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, use a level of half, or less than half, of the median household income as the benchmark. That translates into less than HK$11,750 a month for a family of three. The European standard is more liberal, with anyone earning below 60 per cent of the median income considered as "at risk of poverty". Whatever the standard, that nearly two in seven people in the city live in poverty should be a matter of grave concern.

Previous governments were wrong to assume the benefits of economic growth would eventually trickle down to the grass roots. But the lack of an officially recognised poverty line makes it difficult to determine whether the needy have fallen through the safety net. Thankfully, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying recognises the need for a poverty line, details of which will be announced when a poverty summit is held in September.

Where to draw the line is understandably an issue of public debate, as it formally divides the haves from the have-nots. Equally contenious is the question of how best to help the poor. The council has renewed calls for a universal retirement protection scheme, along with HK$4.8 billion in cash subsidies to lift 190,000 people out of poverty. Given the city's strong fiscal reserves at present, a few billion dollars a year does not appear to be a huge burden. However, with the population ageing fast in the coming decades, it would be wise to study the financial implications carefully and come up with a coherent strategy to tackle the problem.


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This article is now closed to comments

Rent controls , which used to exist in a mild form, must be reimposed urgently. Those not owning their own property or living in Government subsidized units have faced crippling rent increases since Bowtie's administration removed all the controls in order to boost the fortunes of his developer friends.
Average rents ( for instance in Sha Tin), which were $7.000 a month 5 years ago are now $12,000 and yet salaries have increased by only a few percentage points.
The social situation caused by this is bordering on explosive and needs emergency legislation to reverse it.
If you observe, Chinese behave in three characteristically and traditional ways: indifferent, submissive and revolting when confront by injustice. I will say involvement, articulation and negotiation aren’t a choice. The unfortunate of the Chinese ways form a close loop that being indifferent would lead to eventual revolt with unending cycle of which injustice never resolve and culturally stagnant. It is a living history that is happening in Hong Kong among its 7 million plus population. Hong Kong citizens should catch up with the modern world and get involve, articulate and negotiate for your needs and wants. Spare the revolt.
Aren't there enough demonstrations in the streets to show that HK has indeed 'caught up with the modern world' and learnt to 'get involved, articulate and negotiate'? And sometimes in foul language too.
Hong Kong can do much better by EVERYONE otherwise you will not be asking the question and I will not be urging about those three ways to avoid a revolt in Hong Kong.


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