N-nothings are below the poverty line, beyond subsidies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 2:24pm

Almost two-thirds of the so-called "N-nothings" – low-income people not receiving any government assistance – live in cramped spaces about the size of a standard Hong Kong bathroom, a survey has indicated.

The Salvation Army, which conducted the poll, called for establishment of a poverty line to identify those in need.

Sixty per cent of the 200 N-nothings interviewed about their housing said they lived in less than 60 square feet.

More than a quarter this group said they lived on less money, after paying rent, than someone on the dole; 87 per cent said their biggest hope was to move into public housing within three years.

As well as calling for establishment of a poverty line – now being worked on by the newly revived Commission on Poverty – the Salvation Army called for long-term welfare planning to help this group of people move out of poverty.

Commission on Poverty member Law Chi-kwong said the definition of N-nothing was quite vague.

“So when it comes to policies on such a general group of people, there are a lot of grey areas,” he said.

Law, a professor of social welfare at the University of Hong Kong University, said the group’s housing problems were a tricky issue and a big hurdle for administrators to deal with as it hinged on the property market and housing supply, not just poverty.

“If you cut the supply of subdivided flats and cubicles, the prices for them will only increase as the demand is still there,” Law said. “Providing rent subsidies is not as simple either, as property owners can also increase the rent.”

There might be other ways to provide subsidies for this group of poor people to improve other parts of their lives, said Law.

This issue would be discussed by the commission but there was no timetable for this, as the commission’s goals had yet to be defined, he said.

The Labour and Welfare Bureau refused to comment directly on the issue, saying only that enquiries about poverty-alleviation subsidies and welfare planning to solve the livelihood difficulties of the “n-nothings” group were not part of the bureau’s policy area.

It said provision of subsidies to welfare recipients was the task of the Social Welfare Department, and other subsidies were administered through the Community Care Fund.