The number of people in poverty in Hong Kong has hit a nine-year high -- rising from 1.35 million to 1.38 million -- according to a report by the Commission on Poverty issued on Monday.
It shows that one in five people is poor, or 1.38 million of the city’s 7.45 million residents as of mid-2018.
The poverty line is set at HK$4,000 for a single-person household, HK$9,800 for a two-person household, HK$15,000 for a three-person household and HK$19,900 for a four-person household.
Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said Hong Kong’s overall poverty situation has remained “largely stable”, adding that the growing population last year had pushed up the figure.
Cheung, who also chairs the Poverty Commission, believes the real poverty figure is likely to be lower.
As the report’s sole indicator is personal or household income, without taking assets and liabilities into consideration, Cheung said some “asset-rich, income-poor” people may be regarded as impoverished.
Besides, public services and non-means-tested measures aimed at alleviating poverty, like the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme and the Free Quality Kindergarten Education Scheme, have not been reflected in the data, said Cheung.
“The slight increase implies neither a reduction of resources nor the effectiveness of the government’s poverty alleviation work,” he said.
Moreover, the effects of some existing assistance policies have not been shown in last year’s data, Cheung said, adding that various measures on poverty alleviation and support for the elderly have been launched and their effectiveness will be reflected in future poverty situation analyses.
The relevant measures include Old Age Living Allowance, Working Family Allowance, as well as the Life Annuity Scheme.
An aging population and the trend toward smaller households are two factors that had affected last year’s poverty statistics, according to Cheung.
Sze Lan-shan -- the community organizer of the Society for Community Organization -- said the current analysis method cannot comprehensively reflect the city’s poverty situation.
New indicators, including “deprivation”, should be introduced, rather than keeping income as the only indicators, to analyze how many people are living under financial burdens and are unable to meet their basic necessities.
The existing policies demonstrate the government’s resolution to change the current situation, Sze reckoned.
“However, the efforts made on poverty alleviation are still not enough,” she said.
Sze urged the government to review the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, which brings an applicant’s income up to a prescribed level to meet his or her basic needs, saying it’s outdated in view of the current economic development situation.
In addition, she noted that the strict requirements and complicated application procedures for the low-income Working Family Allowance have fallen far short of its original purpose.
Furthermore, the government should strengthen policy promotion among ethnic minority groups in the city as some of them, though eligible, do not know the assistance policy and how to apply because of language barriers.
Sze suggested that the government provide outdoor promotion activities and multiple languages services.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, there were 584, 383 people from the ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong in 2016, or 8 percent of the overall population.
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