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Record numbers living below HK poverty line: study

DPA AND AFP , HONG KONG AND HANOI

The number of people living below Hong Kong’s poverty line has reached a record high, a study published yesterday claimed.

Around 1.23 million — or 17.9 percent — of the population of the territory of 7 million are considered poor, with the elderly and teenagers being the worst hit.

The study, by the Hong Kong Council of Social Services, found that in the first six months of the year there were 20,000 more people living in poverty compared with the same period last year.

The study defined poverty as earning half or less than half of the average monthly income.

For a single person the average monthly income is HK$3,300 (US$425); US$6,750 for a two-­person family and US$12,650 for a family of four or more members.

The study, which analyzed government statistics, found 32 percent of those aged over 65 fell below the poverty line.

Young people also fared poorly with the number of poverty stricken rising to 20 percent compared with 10 percent a decade ago.

The study also highlighted a widening gulf between the rich and the poor in the territory, which is home to some of Asia’s wealthiest families.

It showed the income of high earners had risen 34.7 percent in the last 20 years, while earnings of the low-income groups had fallen by 3.3 percent.

Christine Fang (方敏生), head of the Council of Social Services, said the study, published in the South China Morning Post, showed the need for a minimum wage.

“Many people think that Hong Kong’s economy is reviving ... but the number of people living under the poverty line reflects that the grassroots have not benefited from the so-called economic revival, in fact poverty is getting worse,” she told the paper.

Meanwhile, the global economic crisis will keep more than 60 million Asians in poverty this year, the head of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said yesterday, urging a greater focus on social welfare including healthcare.

“This crisis should be seen as an opportunity to take proactive measures that lay the groundwork for inclusive and sustainable development over the long term,” Haruhiko Kuroda, the bank’s president, told an international conference.

Soaring food costs, rising oil prices and, over the past year, the global economic and financial crisis, have caused up to 41 million Chinese workers to lose their jobs, while the number of chronically hungry in South Asia has increased by about 100 million, Kuroda said. ADB estimates show 60 million people are stuck below the US$1.25-a-day poverty line because of the economic downturn.

“These people would have been freed from the shackles of poverty had economic growth continued at pre-crisis levels,” Kuroda told the opening session of the meeting, billed as the first major Asia-Pacific conference on the social impact of the crisis.

While signs of worldwide economic stabilization are emerging, the longer-term challenge for Asia’s developing economies will be to enhance resilience to external shocks, Kuroda said.

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