Hong Kong's elderly 'among poorest in developed world'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 8:36am

Hong Kong's elderly are not only the poorest people in the city, they are among the poorest in the developed world.

Close to a third of people aged 65 and over are classified as poor, according to calculations released by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service yesterday.

Among 30 developed economic regions listed in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, this is second only to South Korea, where the figure is about 45 per cent.

The figure prompted a fresh call by the council for action on a universal pension scheme.

"We'd like to again urge the government to stop studiously investigating whether a universal pension is needed and take action now," director Christine Fang Meng-sang said.

According to the figures, based on 2012 census statistics, the overall poverty rate - defined as people having equal to or less than half of the median monthly household income - was still the same as 2011, at 17.1 per cent. But the number of people in poverty grew from 1.51 million to 1.61 million . The number of elderly people in poverty grew by 10,000 to 298,000, or 32.6 per cent of the age group.

The poverty rate among people over 65 is 28 per cent in Mexico, 22.4 per cent in the United States, 10.3 per cent in Britain and 1.5 per cent in New Zealand, according to the OECD report.

We'd like to again urge the government to stop studiously investigating whether a universal pension is needed and take action now

"Hong Kong's elderly poverty is considered very serious internationally," council business director Chua Hoi-wai said, adding that retirement protection in the city was underdeveloped and non-comprehensive.

The Mandatory Provident Fund - where bosses and staff contribute to a retirement fund capped at a combined HK$2,500 a month - was grossly inadequate for retirement, Chua said, adding that it did not cover part-time and casual workers or homemakers. He said the most obvious victims were women, as many did not hold full-time jobs and lived longer than men.

The number of working poor families increased from 185,000 to 191,000 last year - even though 80 per cent of these households had at least one member with a full-time job. One in every five children was poor.

The council said more than half of working poor families were marginal, with household incomes 10 per cent or less below the poverty line.

"A subsidy of only 10 per cent of those families' median household income will lift half of them out of poverty," Fang said.

The council has concluded that if the government spent HK$4.8 billion on this subsidy it would benefit 740,000 people and lift 190,000 out of poverty - including 60,000 children. The poverty rate would fall from 17.1 per cent to 14.3 per cent, it said.