HK draws poverty line to sharpen policy focus

HK draws poverty line to sharpen policy focus
An elderly woman pushes a trolley load of cardboard for recycling through a market in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong has established its first official poverty line in a bid to formulate more effective policies to help the poor.

Under this line, which is set at half of the median household income, about one-fifth of those living in one of Asia's wealthiest - but also most unequal - cities are considered poor.

About 1.31 million in the population of 7.2 million fall into this category.

The specific income threshold differs, depending on the number of members in the household: Families with, say, four people, and earning less than HK$11,500 (S$1,860) will now be considered poor.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that the poverty line will be a helpful analysis tool for the government in developing policies that are "more focused".

"It will (also) let us monitor the effectiveness of the programmes," she said.

But Mrs Lam also made it clear that the poverty line "is not a poverty prevention line" - not all who fall under it will be helped.

This is because the line does not take into account assets such as homes. And because the methodology measures "relative poverty", which is dependent on the median income, rather than "absolute poverty" - when one cannot afford essential goods regardless of how the rest of society fares - there will always be a pool of those deemed poor, even if their conditions improve.

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