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Transcript of remarks at press conference on analysis of poverty situation in Hong Kong in 2016 (with video)
     The Chief Secretary for Administration and the Chairperson of the Commission on Poverty, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung; the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong; Deputy Commissioner for Census and Statistics, Ms Marion Chan; and Principal Economist of Economic Analysis and Business Facilitation Unit, Ms Reddy Ng; today (November 17) held a press conference to announce the analysis of the poverty situation in Hong Kong in 2016. Below is the transcript of remarks at the press conference.
Reporter: Mr Cheung, just how would you comment on the figure, almost one in five people in Hong Kong are living under poverty, do you think it's going to harm Hong Kong's image as an international developed city. And why are you so confident that the poverty rate among the elderly people will improve? You mentioned the Old Age Living Allowance. Why do you think it's going to be so effective?
Chief Secretary for Administration: Well, we are certainly concerned about poverty issue in Hong Kong. That's why we've got an official poverty line. That figure, 19.9 per cent, represents a figure before intervention, government policy, government recurrent cash intervention. After intervention it's 14.7 (per cent). It's relatively higher than last year, but still it's stable – look at the trend for the last five years. And if you talk about absolute number, it's still below 1 million for the last four years. But we must not be complacent, because we still have a problem to tackle, which is we have to do what we can to tackle poverty. But if you look at what we are doing here, there are constraints in the way we measure poverty, because we are following the OECD yardstick, which means that we just count the income without assessing the asset situation. We don't really know the assets of individuals in Hong Kong, and also we do not take account of recurrent non-cash subsidy, particularly public housing. If you take account of public housing, the poverty rate will become 10.4 per cent - much, much less. We're talking about 700,000-plus people living below the poverty line. But the reason why I say that 2018, next year, will be a very important year, (is) because we'll be actually rolling out a number of important initiatives which I am sure will go a long way (to) easing the poverty situation for the elderly and also for working low-income families in particular.
     First of all, the enhanced Old Age Living Allowance will be rolled out next year and we'll actually add a layer, a higher allowance, for those in need. We're talking about 440,000 elderly will benefit. And we are also talking about backdating it, back paying it, to 1st of May this year. In other words, when the scheme is rolled out next year, because it's now being worked out, the whole system, IT system, computer system, when it's ready, up and running, we are talking about back paying over 12 months. So we are talking about a pretty big lump sum for the elderly, eligible elderly. At the same time, the current Low-income Working Family Allowance has been completely revamped. It will take a new shape, a complete facelift, when it is rolled out next April, 1st of April. And, in fact, as I said earlier on, for a family of four - the father is a full-time employee, mum is a full-time housewife with two kids - we are talking about this family with $19,000 will get $3,200 per month in terms of allowance, and this is quite a lot in terms of boosting family income and taking them out of the poverty trap straight away. So I'm confident that 2018 will be a pretty important year moving forward, but we must not be complacent. That's why we are leaving no stone unturned on all counts to help the poor people in Hong Kong.
Reporter: Hello, just a couple of questions, first one to Mr Cheung. The figures have been going up increasingly in the past few years. What has gone wrong with past government policies? Why are we seeing these figures at a historic high? And the second question is for Dr Law. Given the pressures from an ageing population and the poverty rates, is Hong Kong still a place where elderly people can retire here happily and healthily? Is this the perfect place to retire? Thank you.
Chief Secretary for Administration: Thank you. The increase in the poverty rate in fact reflects that our population is fast ageing. This is a demographic trend which we can’t reverse – we have to accept it. In fact this is one of the reasons why we are doing a lot in terms of easing elderly poverty in Hong Kong. We’ve got specific measures in hand. We’ve rolled out - in fact in the middle of next year we’ll be enhancing in a big way the Old Age Living Allowance, creating an extra layer - of about $3,500 per month - for those who are in need. We are talking about 140,000 people will benefit - standard benefit - and we’ll be actually backdating the allowance to 1st of May this year. In other words they will get amounting to a full year’s back pay, which I think will substantially ease the financial situation of a large group of elderly in Hong Kong. That’s why we have to continue to do what we can to ease poverty on all fronts, not just elderly, but the demographic situation is something we’ve got to accept, and that’s why we’ve got to really prepare Hong Kong for an ageing community.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare: To answer your questions, firstly, today we are talking about the figures of 2016. And yes, in the figures of 2016, primarily because of the increase in the elderly population, we have an increase in poverty. But if you look forward, as our Chief Secretary has mentioned, the implementation of the public annuity scheme that will be conducted by the Mortgage Corporation (the Life Annuity Scheme of the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited) next year, will help to translate the wealth of our elderly population into regular stream of income and I guess that will substantially improve the livelihood of our elderly population in Hong Kong. And furthermore, the Chief Secretary also mentioned about the improvement of our Old Age Living Allowance (OALA), adding onto it a higher layer of the present value, we are talking about $3,435. That will definitely be increased because of inflation by the time we actually implement the higher OALA. I will say by next year, our situation for retirees would be much improved and definitely Hong Kong will become a better and better place for retirement.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Friday, November 17, 2017
Issued at HKT 19:40
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Press conference on analysis of poverty situation in Hong Kong in 2016

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