【明報專訊】THE government has revealed that the poverty rate has hit a nine-year high of 20.1%, with nearly 1.38 million people living in poverty. Although the government emphasises that its poverty alleviation efforts have produced good results, the poor population still stands at 1.01 million after taking into account the effects of cash welfare measures. Particularly worrying is that the number of children in poverty has risen rather than dropped after policy intervention, which is a wake-up call about intergenerational poverty. It is true that the government's social welfare expenditure has significantly increased in recent years. But what has happened in Europe and America has shown that wealth redistribution measures alone are not enough to narrow the gap between rich and poor and reverse the trend of wealth disparity worsened by free-market economics. Instead, the government must also approach the problem by means of tax, education and wage policies. Unequal educational opportunities have exacerbated the disparity between rich and poor. Children from low-income families commonly lack social as well as educational resources and live in poor conditions. The government should set up concrete targets for its vision and roll out more policies to help needy children.
The government has drawn the "poverty line" at half the median monthly household income and those living below the line are considered poor. Last year the poor population increased by 30,000 on the previous year to 1.38 million. But the government has maintained that the 1.38 million figure does not reflect the real situation because there are many poverty alleviation measures. After taking recurrent cash interventions into account, it says, the poor population falls to 1.01 million, a level similar to the year before. Factoring in other non-cash benefits like public rental housing will even reduce the poor population further to 0.72 million.
Indeed, every method of calculation has its limitations. The government can well argue that the poverty line cannot reflect the effects of its poverty alleviation policies like public rental housing, tertiary student financial assistance and the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme. However, to many grassroots families who are still waiting for public rental housing and have to pay a monthly rent of often more than ten thousand dollars, even a teahouse lunch set that costs dozens of dollars is a "luxury". Furthermore, many households may have a monthly income above the poverty line but still cannot make ends meet. In all these cases, people may all think the poverty line fails to reflect their difficulties in maintaining a living. Government officials should look at the poverty problem from the perspective of low-incomers rather than from its own perspective. The constant assertion by government officials that the limitation of the poverty line will "lead to an overestimate of the real poor population" inevitably invites doubts from the grassroots that the government does not think it is necessary to increase its poverty alleviation efforts.
One major concern about the latest poverty figures is the fact that the child poverty rate has risen by 0.3% from the previous year to 17.5% after taking policy intervention into consideration, bringing the number of impoverished children to 177,000. Officials have admitted that even though the elderly poverty rate has "improved significantly", that has been offset by the increase in the child poverty rate. A non-government survey has recently shown that one in every four Hong Kong children lives in poverty. Not only do they lack suitable space at home for revision or doing homework, but a small number of them even have less than three meals a day. These low-income children can only maintain a frugal living, and simply cannot afford any extra-curricular activities or tutoring classes. With their learning conditions falling increasingly behind those of the middle-class children, it is hard to say there are equal opportunities. That means it will be more and more difficult for grassroots children to move socially upward, which will definitely result in the aggravation of intergenerational poverty.
factor in sth﹕to include a particular fact or situation when you are thinking about or planning sth
make ends meet﹕to earn just enough money to be able to buy the things you need
frugal﹕using only as much money or food as is necessary