Food costs half of poor families' earnings

Updated: 2012-12-04 06:58

By Joseph Li(HK Edition)

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A study by The Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) reveals that low-income families spend over 51 percent of their incomes on food. Food, combined with housing costs, consumes nearly 70 percent of the incomes of the city's lowest income earners, meaning there is little or no money left for medical expenses, social activities or children's development.

HKCSS proposes to increase production of public rental units and to open a separate queue for single, non-elderly people over 40 years old. The council also proposed additional rental allowances for people living in private housing. HKCSS says there is a demand for the government to expand food bank/community canteen services for the elderly and single people, as well as to provide a low-income subsidy for families not receiving the social security allowance.

Using the 2009-10 household expenditure survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department as its basis, HKCSS analyzed food, housing, transport and other expenses of local households to develop a picture of the living conditions of grassroots.

According to the analysis, a three-member family in the lowest 5 percent, in terms of income, earned HK$5,181 per month, but spent 51 percent on food. The same pattern was also detected in other low-income groups. After accounting for food, housing (17 percent) and transportation (8 percent), low income families are left with disposable income of HK$1,231 per month (24 percent).

Families earning over HK$40,000 per month, spent 21 percent (HK$8,930) on food. After taking account of food, housing and transportation expenses, the disposable income of these families was HK$13,355 (32 percent), almost 11 times higher that of low-income families.

Chua Hoi-wai, business director of policy research and advocacy of the HKCSS, noted that transportation expenses of low-income households - especially single and two-member families among the poorest 20 percent - were very low.

The average transportation expenses were only HK$199 and HK$346, he said, probably reflecting that their main activity area was in the communities where they live, so they did not use transport frequently.

"But what is worrisome is that some low-income families were forced to sacrifice social life, connections with relatives and friends and social activities in order to cut travel expenses," Chua explained.

Christine Fang, chief executive officer of HKCSS, said there were about 347,000 non-social security grassroots households in 2009-10. Among them, 80.4 percent of the households had at least one person who had a paying job. This, she said, reflected the serious situation of the working poor (i.e. employed but receiving income insufficient for subsistence). The HKCSS proposed a low-income allowance for the working poor, because there will be no labeling effect such as that attaching to social security recipients. She said the allowance would also provide an incentive for people to go to work.

To tackle the elderly poor and aging population problems, she said the government should overhaul the retirement system and introduce a universal retirement protection scheme as soon as possible.

(HK Edition 12/04/2012 page1)