Price of entry to middle class? Coffee and tickets to French movies - finance secretary
It's not how much you earn, says financial chief John Tsang
Never mind how much you earn - even if it is more than HK$300,000 a month as a top government official - if you drink coffee and watch French movies, you're middle class.
That was the definition offered yesterday by John Tsang Chun-wah, under fire for his claim a day earlier to understand the middle class because he was "also middle class".
The financial secretary was speaking on a radio programme in which he faced criticism for doing too little in his new budget to ease pressure on the "sandwich class" - people who are too well off to qualify for subsidised housing but too poor to buy private flats.
"It may not be necessary to set a salary limit [in defining the middle class]," said Tsang, whose salary of HK$302,205 a month is six times the earnings of the highest-paid middle-income earners in the city.
"In fact it is a lifestyle … I have read articles that say the middle class are people who drink coffee and like French movies. I like movies and tea, so there's not much difference with the lives of the middle class."
Tsang said he grew up in a middle-class family and tended to associate with people from the middle class.
In 2011, the government found in a census that - excluding the poorest one-fifth and richest one-fifth - 60 per cent, or 1.2 million, of households earned HK$12,300 to HK$48,850 a month.
The Census and Statistics Department said it did not consider the 60 per cent as the middle class, for which the government did not have an official definition.
During the race for the city's top job last year, Leung Chun-ying's rival Henry Tang Ying-yen suggested that families with monthly household incomes of HK$20,000 to HK$80,000 be defined as middle class.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who earns HK$312,785 a month, declined to say if she was middle class.
Lam recalled that when she was sent to Cambridge University to study in her early days in the government, "it was the first time I had travelled abroad, because I came from a grass-roots family". Asked if she drank coffee at home, she shook her head.
University of Hong Kong social work expert Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai suggested that the government should give a clearer classification of the workforce in order to meet their needs.
Tsang's budget received a mixed reception from the public on Wednesday, the day it was unveiled, the HKU public opinion programme found in a poll.
The average rating was 53.6 points, a 3.4-point drop from the budget last year and the second-lowest of his six budgets since 2008.
Of the 1,024 poll respondents, 30 per cent said they were satisfied with the budget. Another 31 per were dissatisfied, while 37 per cent described their level of satisfaction as "half-half". Tsang recorded 56.6 points in his popularity rating after his budget, 1.2 points lower than in a survey conducted early last month.
The sampling error of the poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
"Why middle class benefits little from budget relief", Video by Hedy Bok