The government would not make the rich poorer so as to narrow the wealth gap, chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying said yesterday as he named the members of a committee to revive a commission to tackle poverty.
'I have always thought that the problem in Hong Kong is poverty,' Leung said. 'But instead of narrowing the gap, what I'm concerned about is how to raise the income of the poor.
'The issue is not to lower the income levels and assets of the wealthy, but to cater for the needs of the grassroots through welfare services.'
Leung was speaking a day after government statistics revealed that the city's wealth gap had reached a 30-year high, with the Gini coefficient - a globally recognised measure of inequality - reaching 0.537 based on income data collected last year.
Zero on the Gini coefficient scale means perfect equality. One means total inequality.
After taking into account the effects of taxation and welfare benefits provided to the poor, the coefficient, at 0.475, remains too high, welfare groups say.
Leung acknowledged the statistics were alarming, but he said he was less concerned with the wealth gap than the poor's economic hardships.
Yesterday he named a preparation committee to revive a high-level commission on poverty, formerly led by failed chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen when he was the chief secretary.
The committee will advise on the formation of the commission and set out the scope of its work.
Committee member Law Chi-kwong, a social-work scholar at the University of Hong Kong and a Democrat, hoped the commission would take in opinions from all walks of life.
Law said the widening wealth gap was partly due to the ageing population and that the commission should propose better retirement protection for the elderly.
Ho Hei-wah, a fellow committee member and director of the Society for Community Organisation, said the commission should look at ways to reform the current Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.
The scheme has been criticised for leaving out low-income families who are ineligible because their earnings exceed the threshold.
'The scheme means that you either are covered, or you have nothing,' Ho, a veteran welfare advocate, said. The government could consider extra subsidies to cater for the health care and educational needs of low-income families, he added.
The other committee members include Henry Cheng Kar-shun, chairman of New World Development, and Christine Fang Meng-sang, head of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.
The chief executive-elect will head the committee. His chief secretary will be vice-chairman and the welfare secretary will be a member.
The number of 'economically inactive households' increased this much last year to 420,000 from 280,000