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  • Dec 20, 2014
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NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong's elderly 'among poorest in developed world'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 8:36am

Hong Kong's elderly are not only the poorest people in the city, they are among the poorest in the developed world.

Close to a third of people aged 65 and over are classified as poor, according to calculations released by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service yesterday.

Among 30 developed economic regions listed in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, this is second only to South Korea, where the figure is about 45 per cent.

The figure prompted a fresh call by the council for action on a universal pension scheme.

"We'd like to again urge the government to stop studiously investigating whether a universal pension is needed and take action now," director Christine Fang Meng-sang said.

According to the figures, based on 2012 census statistics, the overall poverty rate - defined as people having equal to or less than half of the median monthly household income - was still the same as 2011, at 17.1 per cent. But the number of people in poverty grew from 1.51 million to 1.61 million . The number of elderly people in poverty grew by 10,000 to 298,000, or 32.6 per cent of the age group.

The poverty rate among people over 65 is 28 per cent in Mexico, 22.4 per cent in the United States, 10.3 per cent in Britain and 1.5 per cent in New Zealand, according to the OECD report.

We'd like to again urge the government to stop studiously investigating whether a universal pension is needed and take action now

"Hong Kong's elderly poverty is considered very serious internationally," council business director Chua Hoi-wai said, adding that retirement protection in the city was underdeveloped and non-comprehensive.

The Mandatory Provident Fund - where bosses and staff contribute to a retirement fund capped at a combined HK$2,500 a month - was grossly inadequate for retirement, Chua said, adding that it did not cover part-time and casual workers or homemakers. He said the most obvious victims were women, as many did not hold full-time jobs and lived longer than men.

The number of working poor families increased from 185,000 to 191,000 last year - even though 80 per cent of these households had at least one member with a full-time job. One in every five children was poor.

The council said more than half of working poor families were marginal, with household incomes 10 per cent or less below the poverty line.

"A subsidy of only 10 per cent of those families' median household income will lift half of them out of poverty," Fang said.

The council has concluded that if the government spent HK$4.8 billion on this subsidy it would benefit 740,000 people and lift 190,000 out of poverty - including 60,000 children. The poverty rate would fall from 17.1 per cent to 14.3 per cent, it said.


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The glaring omission in the article is what the poverty line is that these 298,000 elderly and the 1.3m other people are living below. The poverty line in HK is set at a personal disposable income HKD 3,600 per month.

So yes, we have money for HKD 6,000 everybody-dance-now hand-outs, a HKD 22bn cultural district and HKD 67bn for an embarrassingly short stretch of high speed railway so we can get to Guangzhou a little faster. We also have money to dole out endless rate and electricity subsidies, including to lots of people who don't need those at all and despite this going against policy goals like cooling down the property market and combatting pollution.

But no, we don't have money to set up a universal pension scheme that would benefit these 298,000 elderly who are living in conditions even Mexico would be ashamed of. Because that would go into the box 'recurrent expenditure,' and Chief Financial Nitwit John Tsang deems that dangerous and really, despite a HKD 300k monthly salary, he is part of the middle class, so no worries y'all.

Instead, we give them some 'fruit money' (HKD 2,200) that still barely gets them up to subsistence levels, and which we also make hard and awkward to get to, as you need to prove both your income and assets are low enough. With this, we hope they won't drop dead in the street, and if we stick our heads in the sand deep enough, perhaps the problem will somehow go away.

It is a disgrace.
It's just so painful to see statistics like these and even worst when you witness it on the streets. Having come back to Hong Kong from overseas, one of the things that I was shocked by was seeing elderly people on the streets pushing their overweight (for even a normal Hong Kong man) cart picking through rubbish bins just to get cardboard and sometimes food.
What makes them so much more respectable is that they would never be asking for money (even when you offer) or even getting the "fruit money" because they have the true belief that people survive with their two hands and not using welfare means that they are not burdening the future generation.
The only thing that they would be willing to accept is when you offer a helping hand with their carts or pick up a few things for them, which honestly, annoys me that so many people just walk past them like they don't exist. Call it karma gathering, but I do it in the hope that my grandma never have to go through this.
I have pointed this out before but we have seen too many cases of public servants (ministers, but I think corruption goes down the line) being corrupt or abusing their status while at the same time being paid too well; do you think they understand the plight of the poor when they don't even see them. (Going out every now and then with bodyguards is just laughable).
But I think such awareness needs to start young, because it is saddening to see elderly being ignored, the same elderly that built this city.
Hong Kong grew up as a cosmopolitan city with urban poor. It never let go of poverty but to mix it with the rest of society. In the 60s on my way to school, I saw restaurants’ leftover food being collected on a spread cloth pulled along Peel Street for consumption where people would buy. There were other working poor folks at that time including coolies or rickshaw pullers. Later during hangover period, again in my neighborhood, silver haired old folks appeared on Staudon Street flashing nowadays the iconic image of selling one’s physical strength pulling a load of discarded boxes for survival. I can’t but come to the conclusion that the majority of Hong Kong has a hardened spot within them that poverty in Hong Kong is normal. Even 50% of their representatives at the LECGO think so too in not pressing for meaningful action against poverty. The historical experience certainly had contributed the perception of poverty as normal; the worst is that the history and the perception also gravely contributed a justification in creating poverty. It is easy to find plenty of evidences the city creates poverty daily by exploiting the politically feeble folks – living in cage or a flat alike. Ask not only what government can do but ask what you also can do.
Hong Kong government in the past had fooled the world with its claim as a world city implying all things were well and best. It worked the statistics year after year to win the dubious honor of being the world’s freest economy bestowed by The Heritage Foundation from US. I don’t know actually truer if Hong Kong should claim to be less than an economically developing place. And honestly begin to accept financial assistance for its poor from the developed nations (US, UK etc) and the developing China.
Of course it needs not be. Hong Kong got money. The hardnosed MAJORITY in Hong Kong just despise poor people. If Hong Kong could work through their mental block, better use of wealth and better administration to change the culture, Hong Kong would wipe out its poverty overnight. Believe me.
This is not a lecture to Hong Kong but just an observation and suggestion. I can’t help you if you feel otherwise.
I truly wonder what runs through the minds of these supposed "leaders"
they ignore them cause it does not impact them personally and or they have no
real political muscle
Here's an idea: take the amount collected via salaries tax and put all of it, 100%, into a govt run provident fund for needy retirees. Government can take the capital works fund and throw it in general revenue to balance the books.
The other thing that must be done urgently to alleviate working poor is to increase the minimum wage to, say, $38 now and further increase annually to get to a level that can lift workers out of poverty. The minimum wage in Washington state, for example, is about HK$80/hour. HK is a more expensive city so how can anyone live an acceptable lifestyle on $30?
Hk is using a salvary system forgive me to say that. If u don't made good money, you are a slave. I said in the parknshop article written by Tom that minimum wages in Publix US for a 15 yrs old boy is around $60 and is a easy job, grocery in US is 30 to 70% cheaper and fresher than HK. I visited a homeless quarter in TN it is better than a 4 star hotel in hk with 500 sq ft actual space bed room, kitchen, bath charging then $500 a month. I knew someone here subsidized in government housing living in a 3 bedroom 2 bath nice home close to downtown for $800 Usd a month in US. She is a single mother.
Our system is ripping off the poor. They deservt some decent pay. That's why some high pay professional they can enjoy cheap service at restaurants. But the bottomline issues is still related to properties. Property development is the least renovation industry but it eat up your rent, your salary, your food cost etc etc. we all suffer. I'm a well off retired executive bynall stabdard but in HK I can only afford a humble home and food, but in US I live like a real Millioniare on a golf course home with my own pool etc.....think, why Pulbix and Walmart is paying $60 $70 HKD an hour can still sell so cheap and high quality than HK? Because of the rent!
The last want to say often is Hk people should be shameful of the coffin and cage home.
It’s a shame, indeed, to see the senior citizens of our city in such a condition! Can’t our government afford to offer them a little more honour that they deserve?
Shirley Yuen’s recent article in SCMP disagrees law for working hour limit andn advocates for import cheap foreign labors. She and the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce which she represents or the like must be condemned for selfishly keeping Hong Kong in Stone Age from Enlightenment of a civic society.
The government is too busy with more important matters unfortunately.



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