HONG KONG - Hong Kong on Saturday announced its first benchmark to measure poverty and found almost 20 per cent of residents live in such conditions, a move hailed as a step towards tackling worsening inequality.
The poverty line, marked at half of the median household income, showed 1.31 million people in the city were living in poverty, a rate of 19.6 per cent, based on official data from 2012.
The introduction of a poverty is a significant move for a densely populated metropolis known for its sky-high rents and home to one of largest wealth gaps in the world.
"To implement the poverty line is unprecedented...It is an important step in helping the government tackle the issue of poverty," Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying told a summit on poverty.
"Poverty is a multi-layered problem, it needs more time and continued hard work to handle it," Leung said.
Once existing social assistance programs were taken into account, 1.02 million people were considered to be living in poverty.
Households with children and elderly families made up the largest number of individuals living in poverty, both before and after government intervention.
Lawmakers were quick to push the government into action after the numbers were revealed.
"We feel that the government should raise the minimum wage and should also implement subsidies for those with low incomes so that people that come out to work can really support their families," Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said.
Analysts believe the implementation of a poverty line would put pressure on the government to take action on the issue and to help it form policy to target groups hit hardest by poverty.
"Having a poverty line will put pressure on the government and for it to do something in facing poverty," Hong Kong University professor of social work Joe Leung told AFP.