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Ageing society

Greying Hong Kong ‘may worsen poverty rate’ that is already rising among elderly

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 11:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 11:16am

The ageing of Hong Kong’s population may exacerbate the poverty rate, experts say in the wake of official statistics showing a 3 per cent rise in the number of elderly poor between 2013 and last year.

Welfare-sector lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che said intervention measures such as the Community Care Fund and Old Age Living Allowance had alleviated poverty among Hongkongers, but the results were “slow” in manifesting themselves.

“With a gradual increase in the elderly population, the poverty condition of the elderly may become serious,” Cheung said on RTHK this morning.

He called for a scheme on universal retirement protection to take priority in future discussion.

On Saturday, the government released its latest poverty data during the Commission of Poverty Summit. According to the figures, the number of needy people went down by 1 per cent from 2013 to 962,000 last year, but the number of elderly poor rose 3 per cent from 285,000 to 294,000.

READ MORE: One in three elderly Hongkongers living in poverty despite slight overall drop in number of poor 

Economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu said ageing was a “structural” problem that could not be solved simply through welfare provision.

Both Kwan and Cheung believed criteria to measure poverty among the elderly should be adjusted.

Cheung suggested the government ask elderly residents how much savings, if any, they had. “If we have more detailed data, the analysis would be much clearer,” he said.

The government’s poverty line is drawn at half the median household income according to household size, and those who fall below it are considered poor.

The line now considers only a household’s income, not assets.

Kwan said assets should be included, in order to reflect the situation more accurately.

Paul Yip Siu-fai, a social work professor from the University of Hong Kong, said more singles aged between 15 and 34 had fallen into poverty.

One of the factors contributing to the problem was a weak recognition of subdegree programmes among employers, he said.

“[Graduates do not see much scope in] work opportunities and salaries and thus they do not have a strong motivation to look for jobs,” Yip said.

“The government should review the development of the economy and avoid leaning on finance and tourism only.”

He called for a stronger emphasis on technological and creative sectors, but said providing non-academic training to young people, especially those who were not interested in university education, would also be helpful in raising their incomes.