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Hong Kong’s economy may be booming, but that does not mean its residents are happier or better off

New study from the Council of Social Service highlights housing woes and weak family ties in lowering city’s Social Development Index score

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Hong Kong’s sparkling economic numbers mask the serious social problems plaguing its residents, a new study has found.

With healthy reserves and plenty of resources the city is flourishing, but its poorest residents are earning less, child mortality rates and child abuse are on the rise, with continued housing woes also contributing to stagnating social development.

This year, the Council of Social Service gave the city a score of 205 in its Social Development Index 2018, down from 206 two years ago. Since 2000, the index compiled biennially by the umbrella group of NGOs, has always been on an upwards trajectory.

Anthony Wong Kin-wai, the council’s business director, described the score as a sign of “stagnation”, adding: “It indicates to us that there must be some kind of problem within Hong Kong.”

The index is calculated using a variety of government data, assessing 14 areas such as environmental quality, personal safety and health, and development outcomes of five groups in the population, such as the elderly and youth. It is always based on data from two years ago.

In this year’s index, family solidarity – assessed by marriage, divorce and domestic violence rates – was still in negative territory despite edging up slightly from -148 in 2016 to -114. For housing, it plunged further to -342, from -238 two years ago.

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Researchers said the continuous decline in the housing subindex was related to increasing expenditure on housing as share of total household expenditure. This went up from 32.8 per cent in 2014 to 35.8 per cent in 2016, while there has been an increase in the number of waiting list applicants for public rental housing.

“We have a very remarkable economic development, such as the fiscal reserve of the government,” Wong said.

“We have a lot of resources, but that kind of resources are not equally distributed to help people who are really in need, particularly those who are living in the subdivided units, who are suffering from the severe housing problems in Hong Kong.”

In contrast, the score for the economic factor rose from 148 two years ago to 218 this year.

Wong said this was related to the continuous economic improvement such asthe gross international reserves going up to 36 months in 2016, from 26.4 months in 2014.

However, the percentage of total household income earned by the bottom 50 per cent of households went down to 16.8 per cent in 2016, from 17.6 in 2014.

Of five population groups studied, children performed the most poorly with an index score of -244, which is only slightly up from -251 in 2016.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said he feared the overall index would worsen if there was no improvement in people’s lives.

“The affordability of housing has gone down after 2016, and the waiting time for public rental housing has also gone up,” he said.

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Cheung also expressed concern that those in need would struggle more should the economy make a turn for the worse.

Researchers attributed poorer index scores for children to an increase in mortality rates for children under the age of 5, per 1,000 live births, from 2.45 in 2014 to 2.56 in 2016, and the number of child abuse cases per 100,000 population aged 0 to 17, which went up to 87.64 in 2016, from 84.66 in 2014.

The council’s recommendations for solving the city’s social issues include having the government fund and provide land for the development of social housing, establishing a universal retirement protection scheme, and increasing the number of social workers in secondary schools from 1.2 to 2 per school.