Political will not there to deal with Hong Kong's high poverty rate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 12:01am

Oxfam's latest report on the rise in working poor should serve as a call to action for lawmakers, business leaders, and citizens alike ("Alarm as working poor households surge 10pc", September 30). In a city of abundant wealth, it is appalling that so many are unable to make ends meet.

As a long-time resident, I'm surprised by the number of expats and locals who have no idea one in five of our city's children live in poverty or that 45 per cent of the elderly are poor - one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world.

In this fast-paced city, perhaps the hardships others face are easy to miss. But it is clear from this report that poverty in Hong Kong is real and needs solutions.

How is it possible so many children, working parents, and elderly are falling behind when our government sits on a reserve of some HK$ 1.5 trillion?

Unfortunately, the political will isn't there to offer real solutions. In the meantime, the NGO community works hard every day to address the social issues impacting our city's most vulnerable. But, we cannot do this alone.

My own NGO, for instance, cannot offer homework support programmes to disadvantaged children each week if volunteers don't show up or if a funder decides to change focus and will no longer support the programme financially.

The needs of the city's poor don't disappear if government support isn't enough or if NGOs don't have resources. But it does mean that a family in need is likely to fall through the cracks even further.

While our government pays lip service to tackling poverty, the rest of us have an opportunity to make an impact. Volunteering is a powerful tool to address social needs in our own community.

Spending just an hour or two at an elderly centre in a public housing estate or helping an underprivileged child with their homework makes a big difference, and not just to the beneficiary.

The experience is often eye-opening for a volunteer and can be the catalyst for getting involved in the community at a deeper level.

While volunteering alone will not solve our city's social issues, it is a meaningful way for each of us to be part of the solution.

Shaun Bernier, founder and board chair, HandsOn Hong Kong