Hong Kong housing

What can you eat for HK$15? Data shows more than 70,000 Hong Kong households fall below baseline

Analysis of government data shows many families ‘can’t afford to eat properly’, with poor people outside public housing hit particularly hard

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 9:44pm

About 71,000 poor Hong Kong households do not have enough money to meet even their most basic food needs, and are surviving on less than HK$15 per meal per person, a study has found.

And poor people who do not have public housing are shelling out larger chunks of their small ­incomes on rent than those who do, leaving them particularly short of cash for food.

Without public flats or comprehensive social security assistance, more than 40 per cent of low income households in Hong Kong did not meet their basic nutritional needs, with some surviving on less than HK$15 per meal, the study has found.

The study, by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which oversees more than 460 community groups, looked at the conditions those categorised as low income – that is, earning less than half of the city’s median income – but who are not getting social security.

A household is considered poor if it brings a monthly income less than HK$3,500 for one person, HK$8,500 for two people, HK$14,000 for three people, and HK$17,000 for four.

The study analysed data on 6,880 households from a survey undertaken by the Census and Statistics Department from 2014-15. In that survey, city residents gave ­information on their income and outgoings, including their spending on food. It looked specifically at the living conditions of those under the poverty line – whose household income falls below 50 per cent of the city’s median.

Extrapolating from the data, 41 per cent of those households categorised as poor but not ­getting the government’s Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) – 71,000 across Hong Kong – did not spend enough on food to meet basic nutritional needs, with less than HK$15 per meal per person.

According to the council’s analysis, using a food expenses report by Oxfam, a person should spend at least HK$1,696 monthly on food, or at least HK$15 per meal, to meet basic nutritional needs. This is based on a person having at least three bowls of rice, eight ounces of vegetables, seven ounces of meat, two portions of dairy and two pieces of fruit each day.

Money for food is particularly tight for poor families in private housing. That is because, according to the study, they spend almost five times more on rent than publicly housed Hongkongers.

In 2014-15, those ineligible for a public flat – or waiting for one – spent on average HK$7,608, or almost half of their income, on rent. A one-person family, for example, had to spend HK$4,951 or 56 per cent, the largest proportion compared with all other household sizes. In contrast, those in public flats only had to spend an average of HK$1,568, or 13.2 per cent of their income, on rent. The amount these groups generally spend on food therefore differs greatly.

Poor families living in private flats spent only HK$4,973 on average on food per month. But those in public housing spent an average of HK$5,725.

The council’s business director, Anthony Wong Kin-wai, said: “These low-income households have to cut down their expenditure on food to cope with the rise in rents.

“The rise in rents is due to the ­increasing property prices but the rise in income does not catch up ... This will have a large impact on their quality of living.”

Peace Wong Wo-ping, the group’s chief of policy research, said more than 50 per cent of ­low-income families made less money than they spent. “Some of them are retirees who count on pensions ... but we also had ­reports of these families turning to loans from relatives,” he said.

Wong said he had come across poor people who lived on fewer than three meals a day, with some only eating a few pineapple buns daily.

The group urged the government to speed up the building of new public flats and launch ­transitional homes for people waiting for public housing.

Green group urges rethink over Tseung Kwan O public housing plan

The council unveiled last month a social housing project, through which 500 flats are expected to be rented to 1,000 poor households at a quarter of their monthly income.

In 2015/16 the government gave cash grants to the city’s so-called N-nothings – a term that loosely describes those who qualify for none of the government’s relief measures, including public flats. The council has urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to relaunch those grants in her policy address on Wednesday.