When people think of Hong Kong, what naturally comes to mind are its glamorous skyscrapers, breathtaking sceneries and most importantly, thriving economy. However, little do people know that underneath this facade lies an inconvenient truth, that millions of people in Hong Kong are still living under the poverty line while the so-called 1% of society control the city’s wealth. Naturally, such a phenomenon leaves a lot left to be desired if the government still intends to upkeep its legitimacy and international image. Yet in order to do anything about it, one must first identify the underlying factors contributing to this social evil.
On an economic level, the fundamental reason leading to a widening poverty gap in Hong Kong is due to its very economic structure. Indeed, income inequality is inevitable under a capitalistic society, but capitalism alone does not explain Hong Kong’s record-high Gini Coefficient in recent years. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that Hong Kong experienced transformative changes in its economic direction during the mid-20th century, when she evolved from a manufacturing industrial centre to a knowledge-based financial hub. Such a shift marginalized workers who were originally part of labor-intensive industries and left them with no choice but to take up occupations with low wages, such as dishwashers and janitors, since they lacked the necessary skill sets and educational prerequisites to partake in tertiary industries that give higher pay. As a result, a widening poverty gap is naturally formed between low-skilled and high-skilled workers in Hong Kong.
On the political level, the Hong Kong government’s lopsided stance overemphasizing the interests of big businesses over the majority of the population is also to blame. Hong Kong, in particular, is renowned for its laissez-faire non-intervention policy. Coupled with a simple tax structure, this gives major corporations all the more incentive to expand continuously even at the expense of small retail businesses. A glaring example would be that of LINK shopping malls, which managed to drive out family-run independent businesses from operations through excessively high rent hikes in favor of chain outlets. Inevitably, small business owners, lacking the capacity to keep up with this rising tide, end up losing their primary source of income, contributing to the widening poverty gap between mega conglomerates and small-scale businesses.
At the end of the day, the resolution to a widening poverty gap lies at the hands of both the government and non-government institutions. To begin with, the government must establish a robust social security system that can effectively carry out wealth redistribution by means of raising profits and salaries tax from the rich, while simultaneously enacting welfare measures that can alleviate the urgent poverty problem at hand, such as a Universal Retirement Protection scheme for the elderly poor or an increase in Statutory Minimum Wage for the working poor.
Moreover, non-government institutions including the media and charitable organisations must step up their efforts in playing their respective roles in society. For the media, they should shed light upon the plight of the underprivileged, so that awareness could be raised among the public and pressure could be put on the government in order to facilitate prompt action towards the problem. As for charities, aside from providing the underprivileged with solely monetary assistance, they should also strive to offer psychological counselling so that their mental well-being can be ensured, as well as occupational training so that they can be equipped with relevant skill sets to enhance their competitiveness in the job market, which ultimately leads to upward social mobility.
In a nutshell, the reasons behind the widening poverty gap in Hong Kong are deep-rooted and complex. But in fact, this is all the more reason why efforts should be made in order to eradicate this problem. Call me idealistic, but only through concerted efforts from all sectors of society can the underprivileged avoid the poverty trap once and for all.