More Hongkongers now living below poverty line, labour and welfare chief says

Dr Law Chi-kwong says focus should be on preventing people from ending up in the category

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 12:15pm

More Hongkongers are living below the poverty line, according to Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong, but he says he is against setting a target for poverty alleviation.

His comments to the Post were in stark contrast to President Xi Jinping’s pledge to lift every rural resident in mainland China out of poverty by 2020.

Xi made the vow at the twice-a-decade 19th party congress last month, where he detailed goals to make China a “moderately prosperous” country in three years.

Law, a veteran social work academic, said Xi’s goal was “achievable”. But he added that he did not advocate setting a target for Hong Kong.

In 2015, the number of those who were impoverished rose to a six-year high, reaching 1.34 million, and accounting for 19.7 per cent of the city’s population. This was a rise of 20,000 from 2014.

The 2016 figure will be announced later this year by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Law said he expected the figure to rise further.

“I am expecting it to increase, because I expect income disparity will be increasing and the poverty line will be moving up quickly because the median income has been increasing at least quicker than inflation and other things,” Law said.

Explain This: what does it mean to be poor in Hong Kong, and how many people live in poverty?

“So, because we have a moving poverty line, you will expect [the number of impoverished people to rise].”

The poverty line is drawn at half the median household income according to household size. It stands at HK$3,800 for one-person households and HK$8,800 for two people.

“I am one of those who have been against setting a target for poverty alleviation, because we shouldn’t just focus on those living below the poverty line,” he said.

“We should have some help for those above it – at least slightly above it, such as 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the median. This is more emphasis on prevention, particularly for children.”

Law took the relaxation of terms for the Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme as an example of government efforts in preventing more people from falling below the poverty line.

But Professor Chou Kee-lee from Education University said setting a target was important because it allowed the government to assess its own performance.

“I think the government doesn’t dare set a target because the poverty line is moving. But that should not be a reason. Without a target, you can’t assess the effectiveness of policies,” he said.

“While it is important to prevent people from falling below the poverty line, it is even more important to help those already in this category.”