Set target for poverty relief, say Labour Party lawmakers

Government's refusal to lay out plan to reduce number defeats purpose of defining an income level in the first place, Labour Party claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 4:20am

Labour Party lawmakers want the government to set a target of halving the number of people who are living in poverty within four years.

A summit last weekend set the city's first official poverty line at half of the median household income, or HK$3,600 for a single person and HK$14,300 for a family of four.

But the government ruled out setting a target for reducing the number living below the line, now 1.31 million people.

If welfare is included as income, this figures drops to 1.01 million.

Labour lawmaker and party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said the government's stance was "completely unacceptable" and that failing to set a target defeated the purpose of defining a poverty line.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor reiterated yesterday that there would be no overall target for reducing the number of people in poverty, although targets could be set to measure the effectiveness of certain policies.

"To set a target would mean the government focusing all its resources on those living under the poverty line, while many people hovering right above the line may need help as well," she said.

Lee disagreed.

"The whole point is to raise people above the line," he said. "If we don't have a target, how will we know if policies are effective in alleviating poverty? I'd like to ask [the government] - what are you afraid of? Afraid of monitoring? Or are you afraid of not reaching the target? It's very disappointing."

Fellow Labour lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung also disagreed, saying that it was possible to raise everyone above the line.

"The poverty line does not change even when the government provides subsidies to raise people above the line," he said.

Cheung said the HK$3,600 level would not change, no matter how much welfare the government provided, as increasing the earnings of those at the bottom would not affect the median household income.

Lee said increasing welfare spending by HK$20 billion would lift everyone above the poverty line.