Hong Kong’s wealth gap reaches record high of 57.7 times: Over 1.36 million people struggling in poverty

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19th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) Oxfam Hong Kong released its ‘Hong Kong Poverty Report 2023: A Polarised Recovery in the Post-Pandemic Era,’ on the state of poverty in Hong Kong today, revealing that the wealth gap has surged from 34.3 times in 2019 to a staggering 57.7 times in the first quarter of this year, reflecting the severity of poverty in the city. The organisation recommends annual adjustments to the minimum wage and the promotion of a living wage to ensure income security and attract potential labour force.

By comparing the median monthly incomes of the richest and poorest households before and after the pandemic, the report highlights the growing wealth disparity. In the first quarter of 2023, the poorest decile earned 57.7 times less than the richest decile, a significant increase from the 34.3 times gap observed in 2019. This stark division in economic recovery indicates that while high-income families have benefited, low-income families not only failed to reap the benefits but also faced additional challenges.

Kalina Tsang, Director General of Oxfam Hong Kong, expressed concern over the escalating issue of wealth inequality. Tsang called on the government to take action by adjusting the minimum wage, creating employment opportunities, and providing incentives to support grassroots-level employment. Oxfam Hong Kong also recommended the expansion of the Community Living Room project to all 18 districts in proportion to the population of subdivided flats, along with increased support for households living in such conditions. Collaboration between businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the government, as well as investments in social innovation projects targeting poverty alleviation, were also suggested to amplify the impact of charitable initiatives.

The poverty report draws from data collected between 2019 and 2022, as well as the first quarter of 2023, to analyse the median monthly household income across different deciles. It reveals that the median monthly income for the poorest ten percent of households in the first quarter of 2023 was only HK$2,300, a significant drop of 34.3 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The second decile also experienced a decrease of around 6 percent. In contrast, the wealthiest ten percent of households saw their median monthly income grow to HK$132,600, a 10 per cent increase since 2019. Even families in the ninth decile enjoyed an 8.8 percent increase. Overall, the median household income rose slightly to HK$29,500, a 1.7 per cent increase of HK$500 from pre-pandemic levels.

The report highlights the persisting issue of working poverty in Hong Kong, with nearly 210,000 people (6.4 percent of the employed population) living in poverty in the first quarter of 2023, despite having jobs. Nearly 60 percent of those experiencing working poverty held full-time employment, particularly in the Retail, Accommodation, and Food Services sector, where one in ten workers faced working poverty.

In the first quarter of 2023, the unemployment rate stood at 3.1 per cent (114,800 people), with over 40 percent of them living in poverty. Among those unemployed and living in poverty, 67 percent reported being laid off or dismissed by their employers, underscoring the precarious nature of employment for grassroots workers in post-pandemic Hong Kong. Furthermore, over 57 percent of unemployed individuals living in poverty had been jobless for two months or more, and 31 percent had been unemployed for six months or longer.

The number of economically inactive individuals living in poverty also saw a significant rise, exceeding 1.1 million in the first quarter of 2023, representing a 10.6 per cent increase compared to 2019. The poverty rate among economically inactive individuals reached 32.4 per cent, significantly higher than the overall poverty rate of 20 percent. Among these impoverished individuals, nearly half were aged 65 or older, reflecting a sharp 31.5 per cent increase since 2019. Additionally, inadequate childcare facilities and a decrease in the labor force participation rate among women living in poverty were observed in the first quarter of 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Oxfam Hong Kong believes that as Hong Kong emerges from the pandemic, the city is undergoing structural changes, including an aging population, declining household sizes, and shifts in low-skilled job profiles. These factors have contributed to the complexity of poverty in Hong Kong. To address these challenges, Oxfam Hong Kong has put forth several recommendations, including annual adjustments to the minimum wage, the promotion of a living wage, mandatory social reporting for companies, increased support for subdivided flat residents, the promotion of community economies and bazaars, collaboration among government, businesses, and NGOs in social innovation projects, improvements in childcare services, and enhanced protection for casual workers and the creation of more flexible job positions in the public sector.