More Hongkongers fall within the cracks of the official poverty line, social workers charge
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on October 22, 2016.
The city’s poverty problem is far greater than the government lets on social workers say, with many living above the official poverty line who are still unable to eke out a living.
The Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2015, the most recent government study, set the poverty lines for households of one and two persons at HK$3,800 and HK$8,800 respectively. Yet a 2014 Oxfam Hong Kong study estimated basic monthly living expenses for those living alone stood at about HK$7,344. For two people, they came to HK$9,083.
Concern groups say that since the poverty line does not take into account the actual cost of living, the number of impoverished people is really much higher. The government needs to raise the poverty line and the means test limits for welfare, they argue.
A cornerstone of the election platform of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the poverty line was established in 2013, categorising and defining the city’s poor population for the first time.
Based on relative poverty, the line is drawn at half of median household income according to household size.
The poor and those who struggle may be eligible for various subventions, including the Old Age Living Allowance and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), but many subsidies are means tested and involve stringent requirements. As of August, there were 240,267 CSSA cases, according to the Social Welfare Department.
However despite welfare and various government assistance, the number of people living below the official poverty line continues to rise.
Last year, there were 1.34 million people living below the official poverty line, about 20,000 more than in 2014 and the highest number since 2009.
Taking government welfare into account, the number dropped to 971,000, yet still represents 9,000 more than in 2014. The poverty rate also increased from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent.