Poor Hong Kong parents going hungry to provide for their children, says Oxfam

Oxfam report spells out struggle of Hong Kong's working-poor families in bleak statistics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 9:26am

Sixty per cent of low-income parents cut down on their food and medical expenses in order to provide for their children, a report on the working poor reveals.

Oxfam Hong Kong spoke to 400 families of whom more than 97 per cent of them do not apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), despite living below the poverty line.

They all had at least one child under the age of 18 and at least one full-time worker - and an income of less than half the median household income for families of the same size.

"Many of them told us that they hate being associated with the Social Welfare Department [which hands out CSSA payments]," said Wong Shek-hung, programme manager at Oxfam.

She said a stigma was attached to claiming CSSA, which covers the unemployed as well as low-earners, and those who did tended to be demonised - issues that kept these hard-up families from claiming cash made available to help them. Around 81 per cent said they "hoped to earn [their] own living" and that was the main reason they did not apply.

Wong said more than 75 per cent of the workers interviewed spent over 44 hours at work per week, with some 31.7 per cent of them working 60 hours or more.

For the children of the working poor, the lack of cash left 30 per cent short of learning materials and unable to participate in activities outside school.

Close to 96 per cent of those interviewed said a specific subsidy targeted at low-income families should be set up.

Oxfam suggests a monthly cash allowance of HK$800 for each of the first two children in a family, HK$600 for the third and fourth children, and HK$400 for a fifth child and beyond - to be given to families with at least one full-time working member.

The figures are half the rates allowed for children in CSSA calculations, and the annual cost would be about HK$1.73 billion. Oxfam suggests that the government administer an income test for the subsidy, but, unlike the CSSA, exclude an assets test.

Wong said the subsidy should be administered by the Labour Department and not the Social Welfare Department to further avoid negative labelling.

Kalina Tsang Ka-wai, Oxfam's senior programme manager, said the minimum wage needed to be reviewed first.

"The problem for these households is, ultimately, their low income," she said. "The minimum wage [which is reviewed every two years] can't even keep up with inflation right now.

"It'll be hard to maintain their current living standards even with a [child] subsidy if the minimum wage doesn't rise."