Hong Kong implements official benchmark on poverty
AFPHONG KONG--Hong Kong on Saturday announced its first benchmark to measure poverty and found almost 20 percent of residents live in such conditions, a move hailed as a step toward tackling worsening inequality.
September 29, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
The poverty line, marked at half of the median household income, showed 1.31 million people in the city were living in poverty, a rate of 19.6 percent, based on official data from 2012.
The introduction of a poverty line is a significant move for a densely populated metropolis known for its sky-high rents and home to one of largest wealth gaps in the world.
“To implement the poverty line is unprecedented ... It is an important step in helping the government tackle the issue of poverty,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told a summit on poverty.
Once existing social assistance programs were taken into account, 1.02 million people were considered to be living in poverty.
Households with children and elderly families made up the largest number of individuals living in poverty, both before and after government intervention.
Lawmakers were quick to push the government into action after the numbers were revealed.
“We feel that the government should raise the minimum wage and should also implement subsidies for those with low incomes so that people that come out to work can really support their families,” Labour Party Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said.
Analysts believe the implementation of a poverty line would put pressure on the government to take action on the issue and to help it form policy to target groups hit hardest by poverty.
“Having a poverty line will put pressure on the government and for it to do something in facing poverty,” Hong Kong University professor of social work Joe Leung told AFP.
“It's important for us to have a line just to see who are the people in need and to what extent government policy is effective in changing the situation,” Leung said.
But Leung said eliminating poverty was not on the government's agenda.
“To completely eliminate the wealth gap and the problem of poverty is not possible and should not be one of our goals,” he said.
The wealth gap in Hong Kong, already one of the world's widest, is worsening as the rich get richer and the poor struggle to make ends meet, official figures revealed in June last year showed.
Income distribution measured by the Gini Co-efficient, where inequality is indexed on a scale of zero to one, climbed from 0.525 to 0.537 over the decade to the end of 2011, according to figures from the statistics bureau.
A survey conducted by the NGO Hong Kong Council of Social Services said 1.16 million individuals lived in poverty in 2012, with a poverty rate of 17.1 percent, in a city better known for its glittering skyline and free economy.