Hong Kong’s poverty rate stood at 19.9 per cent in 2016 — a record high since 2009, the government has revealed.

On Friday, the government released the Hong Kong Poverty Situation report, which showed that there were over 1.35 million residents living below the poverty line last year – a rise of 0.2 per cent from the previous year.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said that the ageing population and the trend of smaller households have led to more senior citizens living on their own, contributing to the growth of the poverty rate and population.

Matthew Cheung
Matthew Cheung. File Photo: In-Media.

The poverty line, set at half the median monthly household income, is HK$4,000 for household consisting of one person, HK$9,000 for two and HK$15,000 for households consisting of three people. It was introduced in 2013 in order for the government to “keep track of the poverty situation, assess policy effectiveness and guide policy formulation.”

The poorest district in Hong Kong is Sham Shui Po, with a poverty rate of 24.6 per cent, followed by Kwun Tong and Kwai Tsing at 24.3 per cent and 24.1 per cent respectively.

Unemployment low

However, Cheung said that the number of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance applicants for unemployment is at its lowest since the 1997 Handover with 13,415 cases. He said its continuous decline in both the unemployment and low-earning caseload “reflected the correlation between the economic situation and improvement in the employment situation.”

Cheung said that the government will provide younger senior citizens with the opportunity to work, so as to help them improve their situation. However, Cheung added that the government is not asking the elderly not to apply for social welfare, but rather providing them with assistance should they wish to work.

poverty homeless poor rich gap
Photo: Charlie Eady, charlie-eady.squarespace.com.

He also expressed optimism that new government initiatives such as the revamp of the Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme will help to alleviate poverty in 2018.

When addressing a potential universal pension scheme – which activists have long advocated for – Cheung said that the government has “made its position clear” and came to the conclusion that it preferred to focus its limited resources on senior citizens in need.

“The current administration holds a humble and pragmatic attitude and focuses on serving the people,” he added.

The city recorded a surplus of HK$12.4 billion at the end of September, according to the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.