Poverty among ethnic minorities in Hong Kong is worsening, according to the government’s 2016 Poverty Situation Report on Ethnic Minorities, which was released on Wednesday.

The rate of ethnic minorities living below the poverty line had risen from 15.8 per cent in 2011 to 19.4 per cent in 2016.

to kwa wan children
Children of ethnic minority descent playing on the street in To Kwa Wan. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Hong Kong’s official poverty line is set at half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare. In 2016, single people earning below HK$4,000 per month were considered poor. This threshold was HK$9,000 for two-person households, and HK$18,500 for four-person households.

Analysed by ethnic group, the poverty rate among South Asians – before policy intervention – was comparatively high at 25.7 per cent. South Asians made up 40.1 per cent of the poor ethnic minority population, the highest among all groups.

Higher unemployment

The report also found relatively higher unemployment rates among certain groups. Unemployment stood at 18.7 per cent among poor Pakistanis and 17.9 per cent among poor Nepalese- slightly higher than the 16.6 per cent among the total poor population.

“This indirectly reflects the higher incidence of these ethnic groups falling below the poverty line due to unemployment,” the government said in its press summary.

64.7 per cent of poor ethnic minority people lived in working households, higher than the 50.3 per cent among the overall poor population. Furthermore, the percentage of poor households with children stood at 29.1 per cent.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, a federation of non-government social service agencies, expressed concern over the increased poverty rates.

education children school ethnic minorities
Photo: GovHK.

“The federation is extremely concerned about the development of the next generation of ethnic minority Hongkongers – the number of born-and-raised ethnic minorities is rising very quickly, in the long-term they may still have difficulty escaping the poverty cycle.”

The group’s chief executive Chua Hoi-wai said: “From education and employment to using public and social welfare services, ethnic minorities are obviously in extremely disadvantageous situations, they are also greatly restricted in receiving various services to support them in improving poverty, the authorities need to change the supporting policies and more actively approach ethnic minorities to understand their living conditions and needs, in order to provide appropriate support.”

The council suggested that the government adopt several measures, including establishing a foundation to support ethnic minorities with projects in employment, education, translation, and other areas. It also suggested the government strengthen employment support and employ more ethnic minorities in the civil service, as well as provide more public translation services and produce a complete Chinese curriculum for ethnic minority students as soon as possible.

There were 254,700 ethnic minorities – those who did not self-identify as Chinese – in Hong Kong in 2016, accounting for 3.8 per cent of the population. Foreign domestic workers were not included in the report.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.