Poverty line

Poverty Commission set to define poverty line

Oxfam chief says advisory body is close to reaching 'consensus' on recommendations for tackling the plight of city's poorest people

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 2:25pm

A recognised poverty line for Hong Kong should emerge after the Commission on Poverty's inaugural meeting today, a member of the body said.

"It's a fairly agreed-on consensus already. It's best to not waste time arguing over it," Oxfam Hong Kong director general Stephen Fisher said.

Fisher, former director of social welfare, said all necessary statistics were already available, and were refreshed every quarter, so no additional government expenditure on research would be needed to calculate the figures.

Apart from tackling the poverty line, the first meeting is expected to cover the basic ground rules with "nothing new, but all necessary", Fisher said.

He hoped the commission would be able to make concrete suggestions to the government, then press it into action.

The previous commission was disbanded after two years, and a report in 2007 had little impact on the policies of then-chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's administration. The current commission is headed by chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and comprises four officials and 18 non-official members, including Fisher.

Fisher said he was concerned that as the political turmoil surrounding the administration had affected its policies and programmes, it might also impact on poverty-alleviation plans.

He hopes the commission will work towards an old-age pension scheme. "There are lots of technicalities surrounding setting up a pension scheme, but at least the commission could decide on it in principle and create a task force of experts to work on it," he said.

Fisher said the new commission might be able to achieve more than its predecessor, being headed by the chief secretary instead of the financial secretary.

He said the financial secretary cared mainly about economic aspects while Carrie Lam was serious about poverty alleviation "and making necessary policy changes to move it along".

But he emphasised that ultimately the government must have the heart, determination and capability to follow through on helping the poor.

The largest group affected by poverty were the elderly, he said, followed by the working poor - those who have jobs but don't make enough to live on, especially single mothers and members of ethnic minorities. Another group are the victims of inter-generational poverty - children who grow up poor tend to also become poor.