Half a million survive on less than HK$120 (USD$15) a day in Hong Kong.


An old women collects cardboard for cash in Causeway Bay. Photo: Fexlix Wong An estimated 545,000 people in Hong Kong are the poorest of the poor, and our census and social welfare policies have failed them, a new study shows.

That’s for a roof over their heads, food, clothing and everything else it takes to live. Most are elderly and more than 10 per cent are children.

About 40 per cent are aged 65 or above, 12 per cent are children under the age of 18, and 10 per cent of them still live in severe poverty despite being employed, according to the survey released yesterday by the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

The survey defines severe poverty as earning less than HK$3,585 per month, the median household income of those living in poverty.

Poverty is defined as earning less than HK$6,062 per month, half of the median income of all households in the city. The figures include all allowances from social welfare schemes and investments and make adjustments for the number of people per household.

Based on a 5 per cent sample – the largest retrievable from the 2011 census – the study concludes more than 1.3 million people live in poverty, with more than 40 per cent in severe poverty, surviving on less than HK$120 a day.

Chou Kee-lee, associate head of HKIEd’s Asian and Policy Studies department, said households in severe poverty go unrecognised and uncared for.

He said some subsidies only go to those in jobs and there is still no comprehensive government pension for severely poor elderly.

“[The government] doesn’t even know that severe poverty can be divided from poverty,” said Chou.

He added that those living in severe poverty differed from other poor people.

For example, they were more likely to be unemployed or be elderly-only households. Many lived alone.

Chou said the severely poor were the most vulnerable in society – they tend to be immigrants without a support network; disabled; unemployed; poorly educated; or without any savings.

Calling for a universal pension scheme to better protect the elderly in poverty, he said: “The risk of severe poverty is greater for older people.

“As most elderly people living in severe poverty are either alone or with an elderly spouse, the situation warrants public attention,” he said.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung indicated in May that a public consultation on a universal pension might be held next year.

Chou also believes that the government should set up two poverty lines to define those in poverty and those in severe poverty, so it can come up with policies tending to their different needs.

But Law Chi-kwong, member of the Commission on Poverty, said one poverty line was enough, and people could divide those living under the poverty line into different groups themselves. “The most important thing is policy,” said Law. “A poverty line is just a reference for better analyses.”

The government announced last month that Hong Kong’s first poverty line will be officially instituted next month.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Half a million survive on less than HK$120 a day by Shirley Zhao

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