Tue, Nov 21, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Ever more Hong Kongers live under the poverty line as prices continue to rise

The Guardian, HONG KONG

A record number of Hong Kong residents live in poverty, with one-fifth of the population falling below the poverty line despite economic growth, according to new government data.

The number of people living below the poverty line rose to 1.35 million last year, or about 20 percent of the city’s population. It is the highest number of poor since the government began publishing statistics in 2009.

Despite opulent wealth, Hong Kong is a deeply unequal society. It is the world’s most unaffordable housing market and poorer residents live in squalid conditions, with some living in “coffin homes” — rows of wooden boxes crammed into tiny apartments.

The number of poor rose despite the government raising the poverty line last year. For single-person households it is set at HK$4,000 (US$512,08). It is HK$9,000 for a two-person home and HK$15,000 for a family of three.

In the city’s poorest district of Sham Shui Po, which is home to large numbers of recent immigrants and ethnic minorities, the poverty rate rose to nearly a quarter of the population.

Hong Kong officials said the increase in poverty was due to an aging population, and the rate for residents over 65 was about 32 percent.

Social groups criticized the government for its lack of action on poverty alleviation and demanded an increase in welfare payments.

“Economic growth cannot help the lower classes share in the economic achievements,” said a spokesman for the Society for Community Organisation, an NGO that works with the poor. “Reflecting on the grim poverty in Hong Kong, the government’s poverty alleviation measures lack strength, precision and intensity.”

The group called on the government to pass laws combating age discrimination and to increase welfare schemes for the elderly.

The city’s minimum wage is HK$34.50 (US$4.42) per hour and is reviewed every two years.

The large number of poor in Hong Kong rose despite the government posting a HK$110.851 billion surplus in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is ranked among the highest of any country or territory and exceeds that of the UK, Germany and Japan, World Bank data showed.

Wealth is most apparent in the city’s chronically unaffordable property market.

A recent analysis found that prices for parking spaces were rising faster than for apartments in some parts of Hong Kong. In a sample of three housing estates, parking bay prices rose by an average of 167 percent in the past six years, while apartment prices increased by 52 percent.

“It is quite common to see parking spaces transacted at more than HK$2 million in recent years, and HK$1 million is becoming the entry point for parking spaces in Hong Kong,” Mizuho Securities Asia analyst Alan Jin said.

“Essentially, what has happened in the parking sub-sector is pretty similar to what has happened and is still happening in the housing market. The shortage of supply is the key reason for the astronomical prices,” Jin said.

However, speculation was another reason for the rise in prices, Jin said.

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