CE chairs Commission on Poverty Summit 2016 (with photos)

     The Chief Executive, Mr C Y Leung, today (October 15) chaired the Commission on Poverty Summit 2016 (Summit). This Summit, the last one in the current-term Government, was a whole-day event with morning and afternoon sessions to provide participants with more time to express their views.
     The Summit had a full-house attendance with about 500 guests in total. In addition to members of the Commission on Poverty (CoP) and its four Task Forces, representatives from the political, business and academic sectors, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and concern groups were also present at the Summit. Relevant principal officials, under secretaries and heads of departments also took part.
     The Summit started with opening remarks delivered by the Chief Executive. The Chief Executive said poverty alleviation, elderly care and support for the disadvantaged were the priority policy areas of the current-term Government. The Government has put in considerable resources, with the recurrent government expenditure on social welfare increased by 55 per cent in the past four years, which is much higher than the 32 per cent increase in the overall recurrent government expenditure for the same period. In light of the needs of different groups, the current-term Government has launched various measures to alleviate poverty and support the disadvantaged, including the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), the Low-income Working Family Allowance, supporting the inclusion of ethnic minorities, facilitating the employment of people with disabilities and enhancing support services for students with special educational needs. The Chief Executive said the Government’s poverty alleviation efforts were gradually delivering results. 
     The Chief Secretary for Administration and Chairperson of the CoP, Mrs Carrie Lam, then gave a presentation on the analysis of the poverty situation in Hong Kong in 2015. Mrs Lam said this was the fourth time the CoP has announced its yearly analysis on the poverty situation since the setting of the official poverty line in 2013. Updating the poverty line on a yearly basis helps the Government to keep in view the poverty situation, guide policy formulation and assess policy effectiveness, as well as providing a consensus-building platform for society to deliberate on the issue of poverty, promoting a rational and objective exchange of views on poverty alleviation work between the Government and the community. In this update of the poverty line, the CoP has introduced two enhancements under the analysis framework, namely analysing the poverty situation by the age of household heads and decomposing factors affecting the poverty statistics, to bring in different perspectives in understanding Hong Kong’s poverty situation.
     On the back of moderate economic growth in 2015, the poverty line thresholds were raised along with the increase in household income. Compared with 2014, the poverty rate after recurrent cash policy intervention remained at 14.3 per cent in 2015, with the size of the poor population slightly increased to 970 000, which stayed below one million for the third consecutive year.
     The Government's policy intervention in 2015 successfully lifted 177 400 households (373 500 people) out of poverty, reducing the poverty rate by 5.4 percentage points to 14.3 per cent. The poor population remained at a low level of the past seven years in record, demonstrating that the various poverty alleviation initiatives introduced by the current-term Government continued to yield results. The analysis of various recurrent cash measures showed that the means-tested Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and the OALA had a more notable impact on poverty alleviation (poverty rates down by 2.8 percentage points and 1.7 percentage points respectively) compared to the other two non-means-tested schemes, the Disability Allowance and the Old Age Allowance (OAA) (poverty rates down by 0.3 percentage point and 0.2 percentage point respectively). This shows that the more targeted the initiatives are, the more significant the results of poverty alleviation they can deliver. Taking into account in-kind benefits, which comprised mainly public rental housing, an additional 300 000 people or more were lifted out of poverty and the poverty rate saw a further reduction of 4.5 percentage points to 9.8 per cent. This indicates the important role of public rental housing in poverty alleviation.
     Mrs Lam said that employment was undoubtedly the best route out of poverty. The poverty rate of working households was notably lower than those of households in other economic groups. In view of the steady development of Hong Kong’s economy and employment market in recent years, as well as the implementation and the uprating of the statutory minimum wage, the income of the grassroots workforce has increased and more people who are able to work have been encouraged to become self-reliant through employment. The analysis of the poverty situation by the age of household heads, which was newly added this year, showed the effect of employment in poverty prevention. The heads in most of the households with heads aged from 18 to 64 were economically active. Their poverty rate before policy intervention dropped from 16.7 per cent in 2009 to 14.7 per cent in 2015, representing a cumulative decrease of 2 percentage points, which was twice the drop in the overall poverty rate for the same period. In contrast, as the household heads of over half of elderly households (with household heads aged 65 and above) were retired and had no employment income, their poverty rate (40.4 per cent) was much higher than those with household heads aged from 18 to 64. On the other hand, the CSSA caseload also reflected the correlation between the economic situation, promotion of employment and reduction in the poverty rate. As at the end of August, there had been a continuous decline in CSSA unemployment and low-earnings cases for 84 and 90 months respectively, with the numbers down to 15 075 and 5 634 cases respectively, representing a cumulative decrease of 56.0 per cent and 65.6 per cent. This demonstrates that most people will choose to improve their living through employment when the economic outlook is good and that self-reliance remains a core value of Hong Kong. The Government will continue to promote economic development to provide more quality employment opportunities for people.
     The analysis of the poverty line also showed that the elderly poverty rate was notably higher than those of other groups. This was due to the limitation of the poverty line, under which household income is the sole indicator for measuring poverty. Given that most elderly people are retired and have no employment income, they would likely be classified as poor. In 2015, the poverty rate of elderly persons aged 65 or above was 30.1 per cent, which was two times higher than the overall poverty rate. However, of the some 300 000 elderly persons classified as poor, over 80 per cent were covered by various social security schemes, which offered considerable support to their living. Of the about 260 000 poor elders residing in non-CSSA households, nearly 180 000 (over two-thirds) claimed to have no financial needs. Therefore, multi-faceted analysis is necessary to understand the elderly poverty situation, in order to identify those in real financial need so as to target the support measures.
     Another newly added analysis decomposed the factors affecting the poverty rate. As indicated by the data, economic growth and the Government’s poverty alleviation efforts reduced the poverty rate by 2.51 percentage points from 2009 to 2015, but the increase in the elderly population and the increase in the number of one-person and two-person households nullified the drop in the poverty rate by 0.8 percentage points, resulting in an actual reduction of only 1.7 percentage points over the period. Mrs Lam pointed out that in light of the ongoing ageing trend  and the increasing number of small households with elderly persons living alone or with a spouse, it would become increasingly difficult to further improve the poverty figures. Therefore, future poverty alleviation efforts and resource allocation should focus on those most in need, so as to yield substantive poverty alleviation effects and improve the poverty situation.
     Representatives of the four Task Forces under the CoP, namely Chairman of the Community Care Fund Task Force, Dr Law Chi-kwong; Chairperson of the Special Needs Groups Task Force, Mr Chua Hoi-wai; Chairperson of the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force, Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung; and Member of the Youth Education, Employment and Training Task Force, Mr Lau Ming-wai, then reported the major work of their Task Forces at the Summit. Mrs Lam thanked the CoP members and the 57 co-opted members participating in the four Task Forces for their participation and efforts in the work of the Commission. Under the CoP’s bottom-up mode of operation, they have provided many constructive recommendations on the Government’s poverty alleviation work, which assisted the Government to take in public opinions with a view to building consensus in the process of formulating appropriate measures. The CoP plays an effective role as a platform in taking forward poverty alleviation work.
     In the afternoon session of the Summit, participants took part in thematic breakout sessions on “What’s next for poverty alleviation” and “Innovations for empowerment”. Experts from different sectors were invited to share their experience and insights of their participation in poverty alleviation and promotion of social innovation in Hong Kong. At the end, Mrs Lam; the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung; the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man; the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim; and the Acting Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Florence Hui, had an open discussion with Summit participants on poverty alleviation issues.
     The “Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2015”, and the publications distributed at the Summit, namely the presentation slides on the analysis of the poverty situation in 2015,  the “Commission on Poverty Progress Report 2016”, the “Future Stars” Programme Booklet, the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund Task Force Booklet and the Community Care Fund Booklet have been uploaded to the CoP’s dedicated website (www.povertyrelief.gov.hk).

Ends/Saturday, October 15, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:37