Poverty levels in Hong Kong based on flawed data

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 10:34pm

Yet again we read in the Hong Kong press about the number of people in poverty, based on official statistics.

The statistics referred to have two fatal flaws. One is that they take no account of assets – a rich person with no regular income is absurdly counted as poor. Most retired people in Hong Kong have no regular income and are therefore counted as being in poverty, regardless of their financial situation.

The government recognises this flaw but says it is too difficult to collect the information. Does it make sense in that case to issue the statistics at all?

The second flaw is that the poverty level is defined relative to median income, rather than a more sensible approach based on a meaningful definition of poverty.

It is important that we clearly identify those in poverty in Hong Kong and aim government support at them.

A sensible definition of poverty should define the basic needs of the people, for example, for food, clothing and housing, and then calculate what level of income and/or assets are needed to pay for this.

Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) is paid to those whose income and assets are below defined levels.

Are those who receive CSSA pulled out of poverty? If not, why not? If we have an adequate CSSA programme, why should anyone be in poverty? These are the questions the government should be answering.

Only when we truly understand poverty can we meaningfully have a plan to eradicate it in Hong Kong.

Poverty eradication is a feasible goal for the city, but not without a credible basis of measurement.

Victor Apps, chairman, Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong