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.
This was revealed in the latest figures released by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.
Further economic restructuring has taken a toll on less-educated workers, subjecting them to less income or even unemployment, the council said.
"The situation has not improved yet and it seems that the problem would remain serious," said Chinese University's Social Work professor Joyce Ma.
About 401,000 households, or 18.4 percent of the total, lived in poverty in 2003, compared with 392,000 households in 2001. This was revealed by the council based on data provided by the Census and Statistics Department.
The number of people living below the poverty line hit 1.122 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 for a two-person household and HK$8,400 for a three-person one.
The ratio of children, aged below 15, from low-income families increased to 22 percent in 2003, compared with 20.7 percent in 2001. And those aged between 15 and 29 rose to 11.9 percent compared with 10.4 percent in 2001.
Poverty has affected children's all-round development, Ma said.
For instance, many low-income families cannot afford computers or Internet subscription for their children, she explained.
Alice Yuk, the council's chairwoman on policy research and advocacy, urged flexible assistance, such as schooling subsidies, instead of one-off grants, to be provided to low-income families.
"While those low-income families fight hard to maintain basic living standards, how can you expect that they will give more money for their children to join extra-curriculum activities?" She called on the government to set up a cross-disciplinary committee on poverty reduction and to suspend the slashing of funds in the social welfare sector.
(China Daily HK Edition August 13, 2004)