Survey reveals 40% of low-income households spend 30% of income on food, 50% of respondents not in full-time employment

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27th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) A recent survey conducted by grassroots organisations concerned about the livelihoods of low-income citizens has revealed that even after Hong Kong’s society has returned to normalcy, many struggle to make ends meet. The survey found that over 40% of respondents spend more than 30% of their household income on food, and over half of them reside in inadequate living conditions such as subdivided flats and bed spaces. Additionally, half of the respondents are not engaged in full-time employment, which negatively impacts their family life. The burden of various public charges, such as the “rubbish collection fee,” exacerbates the challenges faced by the grassroots population. The organizations are concerned that these factors will further widen the wealth gap and urge the government to temporarily postpone welfare reductions and public fee increases. They also suggest using poverty and basic living expenditure benchmarks to formulate poverty alleviation policies that can help improve the lives of low-income individuals.

The survey, known as “Grassroot Wishes,” employed convenient sampling and utilized a snowball technique to reach out to different groups. From 7th February to 23rd February, an online questionnaire was distributed to grassroots citizens across all 18 districts of Hong Kong, resulting in 606 valid responses. The survey findings revealed that 41.7% of surveyed households spend over 30% of their income on food. Among them, 53% live in rented subdivided units, including subdivided flats, partitioned rooms, and bed spaces, making up 22.1% of the total surveyed population.

The survey also discovered that while government statistics indicate a rising trend in the median monthly household income in recent months, 75% of respondents reported either no change or a decrease in their family income. Only 25% of respondents stated that their income had increased, highlighting the struggle of low-income citizens to keep up with the overall market. Despite the minimum wage being raised from HK$37.5 to HK$40 per hour, the survey results suggest that the increase did not significantly benefit the majority of grassroots citizens, as only 25% reported an income increase.

Although the latest unemployment rate in Hong Kong stands at 2.9%, indicating near-full employment, the survey found that only about 50% of respondents are full-time employees, while the rest are engaged in part-time, casual (long-term casual workers without a fixed employer), temporary, or self-employment arrangements. The post-pandemic period has seen employers increasingly opt for temporary or casual workers.

The survey revealed that respondents expressed widespread disagreement with various plans, including the implementation of the “rubbish collection fee,” additional charges for public services, and reductions in assistance and welfare support for grassroots citizens during a deficit situation. Given the lack of substantial wage increases and the inflationary pressure on prices, the already economically burdened grassroots population would face further hardships if multiple austerity or fee-related policies were implemented, potentially widening the wealth gap.

“Grassroot Wishes” has put forward several recommendations to the government. These include annual reviews of the minimum wage and long-term promotion of a living wage, proactive and transparent monitoring of price increases for various consumer goods, reduction of monopolies, and the establishment of benchmarks for basic living expenditures. The organizations also advocate for increased allocation of community care service resources, encouraging family caregivers to seek employment outside the home, and providing region-centered and family-based capacity building and comprehensive support services, in addition to employment programs and vocational matching services. They emphasize the importance of postponing austerity measures, welfare reductions, and additional charges for public services to avoid blind deficit reduction.