ABSTRACT

Governments and international organizations around the world regularly release income inequality statistics, notably the Gini Coeffi cient, but not statistics on poverty. Unfortunately, rising income disparity has always been associated with rising poverty in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world. Politicians, pressure groups, non-government organizations and scholars (sociologists in particular) alike frequently criticize the Hong Kong government for not doing enough to combat income inequality and poverty. As the Hong Kong government does not defi ne what poverty is, different people and organizations put forward their own estimations of the size of the people living under poverty. Among these reports, one published jointly by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and Oxfam Hong Kong in December 1996 has become the centre of attention.1 This report estimated that there were about 250,000 household living in poverty in 1994/1995, of which around 110,000 households were receiving comprehensive social security assistance from the government (Wong and Chua 1996). While this report argues that there were 640,000 people living in abject poverty in Hong Kong in 1994/1995, another study suggests that there were actually 850,000 people with household incomes below the poverty level in 1996. Given the fact that the population of Hong Kong was around 6.4 million people at that time, these fi gures were alarming.