Hong Kong must continue to fight poverty, experts advise

Updated: 2015-09-30 08:03

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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More jobs, retraining, financial assistance and other social measures will be needed in future

The number of poor or vulnerable people in Hong Kong is expected to be down in the city's forthcoming poverty report. But experts say Hong Kong cannot afford to be complacent: A more diverse mix of jobs and re-training will still be needed to prevent future rises in poverty.

They warn that this could be triggered by a slowing economy and rising unemployment.

Gains from the government's early initiatives to reduce poverty were expected in the government's latest poverty report due on Oct 10, poverty expert and Chairman of the Community Care Fund's Welfare Sub-committee Nelson Chow Wing-sun told China Daily.

The number of people living in poverty is expected to remain under 1 million due to measures initiated by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. This includes HK$3 billion in extra annual funding and expansion of Old Age Allowances covering more than 48,000 elderly people.

Despite progress in helping the most vulnerable groups, many commentators are urging further assistance to help working poor families. The number of these families has risen by 10 percent over the past five years to nearly 190,000 households, according to Oxfam.

Community Care Fund Executive Committee Chairman Law Chi-kwong said the Commission on Poverty would focus on alleviating the plight of the working poor. He said these problems could last for the next four decades.

Unemployment in Hong Kong has hovered around 3 percent since 2012. But a cooling economy overly reliant on the retail sector is facing a worrying drop in tourism. This might send the unemployment rate to levels unseen since the global financial crisis, Chow said.

"There are worries the economy is facing a downturn and the unemployment rate could breach 5 percent," Chow said. He noted that low-income families would be hardest hit. This is in a city where 10 percent of the population aged 14 to 34 years old earns less than HK$8,315 per month and working poor families of three live on salaries of HK$10,000.

Most of the expected job losses will be in low-paying tourism-linked jobs due to shrinking visitor numbers. But the construction industry remains undermanned and in need of 15,000 trade workers by 2018, according to the Labour and Welfare Bureau.

Diversifying jobs and greater training opportunities would lay the foundation for a less unequal society, Chow said.

Better-paying jobs and opportunities for the 80 percent of locals who did not graduate from university would go a long way to addressing the world's worst Gini coefficient gap for developed economies, Chow said. This is the situation on Hong Kong, when the wealthiest 10 percent own 77.5 percent of the city's total wealth and the top wealthiest 25 people's total wealth rivals the government's HK$1.5 trillion reserves.

At least 6,000 professional caregivers will also be needed in the coming decade. This is to meet the needs of industry in responding to a growing aging population. The government is preparing to launch public consultations in December to gauge views on seven proposals to revamp retirement protection.

Poverty alleviation NGO Oxfam has called for more vigorous reviews of the city's minimum wage to at the very least keep pace with inflation. It also advocates fixing public housing rentals at one-third of monthly wages, offering an average discount of roughly HK$200 on median public housing rents of HK$1,945 a month.

The NGO has also urged the corporate sector to take on more social responsibilities.


(HK Edition 09/30/2015 page8)