Like other countries, Hong Kong has a poverty line which it set in September 2013.
Basically, a poverty line is minimum level of income deemed adequate in a particular country.
To define poverty, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service both use a level of half or less than half of the median household income. Around the world, this benchmark ranges between 40% and 70%.
When the poverty line was introduced in 2013, overnight, more than a million people were officially declared “poor” in Hong Kong.
More than 1.3 million – out of a total population of under 7.2 million – live in poverty, according to a Hong Kong government report in 2015.
The problem affects the elderly more. Around 1 in 3 elderly Hong Kongers live below the poverty line.
However, after the welfare payments such as the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance are factored in, 1.01 million people still fall below the poverty line.
The point is, despite a defined poverty line and the social assistance handed out by the administrative government to those who fall under the poverty line, the battle against poverty is quite an uphill one.
Although there has been a slight drop in the number of people living below the poverty line, elderly poverty has increased by 19%.
Recent reports bring to light the phenomenon of McRefugees in Hong Kong. A middle-aged woman was found dead in a 24-hour McDonald’s outlet in October 2015. For several hours, staff and diners at the Kowloon Bay outlet went about their business, before someone noticed her slumped over the table and called the police.
Another story involved a Singaporean lady who had been reported missing for four years only to be found seeking overnight shelter at a 24-hour McDonald’s outlet in Hong Kong.
SO, after all that’s be done with the introduction poverty line, how has it helped Hong Kong in terms of helping the poor and vulnerable?
The way Singapore does it
Compare this with Singapore. We do not have a defined poverty line. According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), they chose to have broader definitions of groups to help, clear criteria to help identify them, and appropriate assistance schemes for the poor.
“A single official poverty line to identify the “poor” or to assess the efficacy of our schemes is one-dimensional. It has limitations in informing policies as it does not take into account the differing nature of needs such as housing, health, employment, family issues. Neither does it provide useful information on the depth or intensity of needs of low income families.”
MSF’s reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Ms Tan Su Shan in Nov 2013.
Depending on the purpose, the government identify groups of Singaporeans who require support. Hence, multiple lines of assistance for those who need it.
Singapore also faces an ageing problem where the size of citizens aged 65 and above has doubled from 220,000 in 2000 to 440,000 today. By 2030, this is expected to increase to 900,000.
So what is in place to help them?
Help for the seniors
The CPF and the Silver Support Scheme, which provide permanent handouts to eligible seniors, are in place to provide seniors with a good foundation for retirement.
But before retirement, the government also has a re-employment policy in which companies are supposed to offer eligible mature employees re-employment up to the age of 65. This will be moved up to 67 by 2017.
These help to provide adequate and all-rounded support for seniors.
Helping low-income earners
Like Hong Kong, a lot of low-income earners work for companies that are service providers who service clients who outsource jobs such as cleaners and security officers.
To help these low-income earners, the government introduced the Workfare Income Supplement to supplement the incomes and retirement savings of older Singaporean workers earning up to $1,900 per month, and providing funding support for their training.
Another way which low-income earners get help is through the Progressive Wage Model which was introduced by the Labour Movement to help low-wage workers. Based on skills, productivity and job level, workers are given the chance to earn better wages sustainably.
According to Labour MP Zainal Sapari, the Progressive Wage Model was developed to make sure that low-wage workers – such as cleaners, landscape technicians and security officers – “paid fairly, that commensurate with their skills, productivity as well as their job responsibility.”
“We are hoping for them to be paid better wages, but at the end of the day, I think this is a good step to make sure that we are fair and allow the cleaners to grow in the job.”
Labour MP and NTUC U Care Centre Director Zainal Sapari
Low-income individuals and their families can also get social assistance through the ComCare which offers various help such as Temporary Financial Assistance, Child Care Subsidies, and the Home Ownership Plus Education Scheme.
With all these help extended to aid the poor in Singapore, there is little wonder why there is no need to define a poverty line which can be rather one-dimensional. Sure, there are poor people in Singapore, but a poverty line won’t be the tool to help identify who needs the help.
Which brings back the titular question: Other countries have a poverty line. But what for???