The number of people living below the poverty line has almost tripled in the past 25 years, according to a report released yesterday. It showed more than 856,000 people - 14 per cent of the population - were surviving on $2,732 or less a month, a maximum of about $90 a day. And the Hong Kong Social Security Society, which carried out the study, said the number of poor could be much higher as it had used a conservative formula to set the poverty line. The society, a group of academics and researchers, said it did not want 'to frighten' the Government. It said most Western countries drew the poverty line at half the average income, which is the total salary divided by the total population. But it had set the line at half the median income - the figure reached by listing all salaries in sequence and then choosing the one in the middle. Last year, the average income was $7,109 a month while the median income was $5,463. Assets were also taken into account. In 1991, their research showed 13 per cent below the poverty line; in 1981, it was 10 per cent; and in 1971, it was eight per cent, about 300,000 people. Henry Mok Tai-kee, the group's vice-chairman and a lecturer at the Polytechnic University's Applied Social Studies Department, said poverty had reached such an alarming level that the Government had to act. 'The poverty rate in Hong Kong is even greater than the rate in China where some five to six per cent of the population are defined as living below the poverty line,' he said. 'The SAR Government should tackle the problem, draw a poverty line immediately and make regular reports to the public on the number of poor people. 'An inter-departmental committee should be set up to get rid of the poor by formulating measures against poverty every five years,' he added. Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, of the Hong Kong University Department of Social Work and Social Administration, said the number of poor increased as the population aged and single-parent families increased. 'Since Hong Kong does not have any central pension scheme, old people have nothing to rely on after their retirement,' he said. 'Families with new migrants are also poor. The fathers or mothers in Hong Kong have to quit their jobs to look after their newly arrived children.' Iman Fok Tin-man, of the Society of Community Organisation, called on the Government to consider taxing the rich more, with the extra income going to help the poor. Executive Councillor Tam Yiu-chung, responsible for elderly welfare, said the Government would study the findings, adding that he expected the elderly to benefit when Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announces higher welfare payments next month.