Poverty line set too low for people living alone: Oxfam

Call to review minimum wage after study finds basic cost of living for one-member households is double the estimate of official poverty line

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 8:04am

The government has drawn its poverty line for adults living alone at just half their actual cost of living, a leading charity says.

Oxfam Hong Kong calculated the basic monthly expenses for people living alone at HK$7,344 a month but the city's estimated poverty line for 2013 set them at HK$3,800.

"The government's poverty line has underestimated the basic need of one-person households," Oxfam director general Stephen Fisher said.

"There's a lot more people living in poverty in one-person households."

He called on the government to review the minimum wage to ensure those earning it made enough to support themselves and one other person.

Oxfam's researchers calculated the basic cost of living for one- to five-member households, taking into account the minimum requirements and prices of food, and estimated the proportion they spent on food out of their total expenses.

The basic monthly living cost for three- to five-member households matched closely with the poverty line. But the cost for adults living alone deviated by 93 per cent, elderly living alone by 21 per cent, and two-member households by 7 per cent.

Fisher called on the government to take into account not only the poverty line but also the basic cost of living in making poverty-relief policies.

Oxfam conducted the study from October to February to provide another method of measuring the poor population.

Unlike the government's poverty line, which is based on "relative poverty" - 50 per cent of the population's median income - the study used "absolute poverty", a measure of what people actually needed to survive.

Oxfam Hong Kong's programme senior manager Kalina Tsang Ka-wai explained that many one- to two-person households were elderly people with no income which might have lowered the income median and thus the poverty line.

The researchers designed nutritionally balanced menus, compared prices of food retailers and recorded the minimum price for a meal. Based on the Census and Statistics Department's figures on the average proportion of food in overall expenses, they deduced the basic monthly living cost. For two people, this was HK$9,083.

Based on the concept that one person's income should cover the basic expenses of two, they called for a minimum wage of HK$34.90 an hour, assuming 10-hour days and 26 days of work a month. The minimum wage was increased to HK$30 last year.