Hongkongers living in poverty increases to highest number ever: gov’t report

Wikimedia Commons (By Emcinda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Wikimedia Commons (By Emcinda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The number of people struggling to get by in Hong Kong is soaring, according to government figures, which show almost 20 percent of the city’s population is considered poor.

Released last week, the 2016 edition of the Hong Kong Poverty Situation report, shows that, based on income, 1,352,000 Hongkongers (582,000 households) live under the poverty line, resulting in a poverty rate of 19.9 percent.

The figure, in real terms, is the highest since the study began, with 7,000 more Hongkongers considered poor than in 2015.

If the government’s cash interventions are taken into account — such as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and the Old Age Living Allowance — then the size of Hong Kong’s poor population drops to 996,000 people (or 412,000 households), a poverty rate of 14.7 percent.

Again, this figure in real terms is almost 25,000 people higher than the 2015 research.

The poverty line is set at half the median income according to household size. For a single-person household, this is HK$4,000; for two people, HK$9,000; and for a three-person household, the poverty line is HK$15,000.

The threshold rose in line with income rates compared to 2015. The report noted that the assessment is based on income, meaning some “asset-rich, income-poor” people — particularly retired elderly residents — would be classed as poor.

But with regular stories of Hongkongers struggling on the breadline —  whether it be descriptions of smaller than jail-cell sized apartments or the lives of the city’s working homeless — the figure will perhaps come as little surprise to many.

The struggles of many to make ends meet, in the face of rising property prices and a widening wealth gap, continues to drive discontent in the city, particularly among the young.

According to the study, Sham Shui Po, Kwun Tong, Kwai Tsing, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun are home to the largest number of poor among the city’s 18 districts.

Presenting the report on Friday, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said that several factors, some “out of the government’s control,” were behind the trend.

Chief among these, was Hong Kong’s aging population. Among the poor, 337,000 are older than 65. 

Speaking on RTHK radio today, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the number of people receiving welfare assistance who still lived below the poverty line would likely increase beyond 1 million.

He said welfare assistance was adjusted according to inflation, while the poverty line was pegged to 50 percent of the median income, which was rising faster.

“Therefore there will be a growing gap between the poverty line and our welfare program,” he said, according to RTHK.

He added that there was more the government could be doing, particularly to address Hong Kong’s aging population.

“There is a need to think how to provide the retirees a regular and a reasonable income for them to live their retired lives.”

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