In the past few years, more Hong Kong families have declined to a state of living in poverty while the income gap between rich and poor has continued to widen.
About 401,000 Hong Kong households, or 18.4 percent of the total, lived in poverty in 2003, according to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service. The figure indicates a rise of 2.3 percent from the 392,000 impoverished households reported in 2001.
The council bases its calculations on data provided by the Census and Statistics Department.
Further economic restructuring has taken a toll on less-educated workers, subjecting them to lower incomes or unemployment, the council said.
"The situation has not improved yet and it seems that the problem will remain serious," said social work Professor Joyce Ma of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The number of people living below the poverty line hit 1.12 million, or 16.5 percent of total population, in 2003, compared to 1.07 million in 2001.
The poverty line is marked at the 50 percent of the median household income. It is about HK$6,300 (US$808) for a two-person household and HK$8,400 (US$1,077) for a three-person one.
The ratio of children aged below 15 from low-income families increased to 22.0 percent in 2003, compared with 20.7 percent in 2001. The ratio of those between the ages of 15 and 29 rose to 11.9 percent from 10.4 percent in 2001.
Poverty affects children's overall development, Ma said. For instance, many low-income families cannot afford computers or Internet connections for their children.
Alice Yuk, the social service council's chair of policy research and advocacy, urged that flexible assistance such as schooling subsidies be provided to low-income families rather than one-off grants.
"When these low-income families are fighting hard to maintain basic living standards, how can you expect them to give more money to their children to join extracurricular activities?" She called on the government to set up a cross-disciplinary committee on poverty reduction and to suspend the slashing of social welfare funds.
(China Daily August 13, 2004)