Hong Kong’s household income inequality rose to a record high last year, a government by-census has shown.

The Census and Statistics Department announced that the city’s Gini co-efficient based on monthly household income in 2016 was 0.539. Higher scores represent greater inequality.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

During Hong Kong’s last census in 2011, a score of 0.537 was recorded. The figure has been on the rise since the first measurements were made in the 1971 census.

By comparison, Singapore recorded a figure of 0.458 last year.

Population ageing?

The department attributed the heightened income inequality mainly to the effects of a rapidly ageing population, and an increase in the number of non-working elderly people.

“Although population ageing had accelerated in recent years, the increase in the Gini co-efficient based on original household income had slowed down,” said the department in a press release on Friday.

“Improvements in the employment and income situations of the grass-roots workers as well as the increasing government expenditure on cash social benefits in recent years… relieved the widening effect of accelerating population ageing on income disparity.”

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

If households with no working members are discounted, Hong Kong’s Gini co-efficient would have decreased from 0.489 in 2011 to 0.482 in 2016, said the department.

Excluding foreign domestic workers, the median monthly income of the working population rose from HK$12,000 in 2011 to HK$15,500 in 2016. The department said this represented a 9.5 per cent increase, taking into account inflation.

See also: Housing, shelters or nothing at all? Hong Kong’s homeless face non-existent choices

Responding to the latest figures, NGO Society for Community Organisation said in a press release that Hong Kong’s low-income families have been unable to benefit from economic growth and the amassing of wealth in the city in recent years.

“The Special Administrative Region government has not set a long-term goal to reduce income inequality,” it said. “Inequality has long been a source of conflict in Hong Kong society, and has a directly impact on whether the government can govern effectively.”

A government census is conducted in Hong Kong every five years.

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Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.