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Education

We must act soon or generations of Hong Kong children will be raised in poverty, warns head of city’s social service council

  • Intergenerational threat to city’s children if government does not combat issues that have made 1.37 million people destitute
  • Children are going hungry as families struggle to make ends meet
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 11:20pm

Hong Kong risks raising generations of children in poverty if the government does not act soon, a social services advocate said on Tuesday.

Chua Hoi-wai, the head of Hong Kong Council of Social Service, was commenting after a report released on Monday revealed more than 1.37 million people in the city live below the poverty line, with 17.5 per cent of Hong Kong’s children among that number despite government intervention.

For Chua, the financial pressures placed on families at the lower end of society translates into an impact on a child’s education, which if left unchecked would lead to poverty for generations to come.

The council boss believes families living in private flats, or subdivided units, struggle with high rents, which in turn affects their children’s needs when it comes to learning and living.

“The expenditure on education is very high now,” he said. “If we do not give more support in this area, it is worrying to see the children lose at the starting line.”

Chua said it was alarming that the city’s poverty rate had not dropped, despite government intervention, and suggested it could expand ways in assessing poverty to gain a better picture of what was happening in the city.

Priscilla Lui Tsang sun-kai, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights, said it was shocking to read about the number of families living below the poverty line.

9 in 10 Hong Kong primary school children on welfare don’t have basic needs met

“That is shocking, particularly in an affluent society like Hong Kong,” she said. “Some of the children were saying they were hungry, not for a single incident, but regularly, because they were not provided with sufficient meals.”

These things were happening with many children and families in the city.

“The government is well aware of the poor living conditions that hamper the growth of children in many ways,” she said.

Lui said Hong Kong must speed up its work and reduce the “pain, suffering and violence of children”.

Action plans must be put in place, she said.

The poverty line is set at 50 per cent of median monthly household income before taxation and the government’s policy intervention, which includes social welfare payments, such as allowances for the elderly and low-income families.

The 229,600 Hong Kong children being left behind because they are too poor to learn and play with others

In real terms that means a single person with a monthly income of HK$4,000, a two-person household earning HK$9,800, while the threshold for a three-person household is HK$15,000.

The poverty rate also rose 0.2 percentage points to 20.1 per cent, which is the highest since 2010. But, after taking the government’s cash handouts into account, the poverty rate fell to 14.7 per cent, or 1.01 million, a rate similar to the previous year.

Chua said the government had boosted its support or lowered its threshold for welfare subsidies and cash allowances, including those for elderly people, and working families.

“After adding more resources, the poverty rate still did not drop when taking the government policy intervention into account, it was an alarming signal to us,” he said.