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Hong Kong's Wealth Not Shared by All Its Citizens


Hong Kong on July first marks the 10th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule. The Hong Kong government says the special region's economy is the healthiest it has been in a decade. But social workers say the gap between rich and poor has widened over the past 10 years. VOA's Heda Bayron visited one of the city's poorest districts -- where some elderly residents complain of neglect.

Rising demand from mainland Chinese buyers is fueling a boom in Hong Kong's luxury property market.

But some Hong Kong residents make due with less than four square meters. In a 47-year-old building in the low-income district of Sham Shui Po, the elderly, new immigrants, refugees and poor families struggle to survive.

Seventy-seven-year-old Mrs. Ng came from mainland China many years ago. She and her husband have lived in one room for more than 17 years. Their life's possessions are crammed in all corners. This is their living room, dining room and bedroom.

She says in the past 10 years since Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty nothing has changed for her. She says she is still poor even though the city's economy has picked up, because many elderly people like her do not have a pension. They rely on welfare benefits and their children in China.

There are currently 300,000 social security assistance cases in Hong Kong, half of them elderly.

As Hong Kong's population ages, social workers say the problem could only grow. Because mandatory pension contributions were introduced only seven years ago, the government carries the burden of welfare payments to the elderly.

Seventy-four-year old Mr. Kwok used to work in a factory. Like Mrs. Ng, he says poor people have been left behind in Hong Kong's prosperity.

One elderly resident said, "I have no income. I depend on $100 a month of old age allowance from the government and my own savings. The only way to live is to spends less money."

Kwok says retirees like him cannot afford the city's high rents and he needs the government to increase his welfare benefits. "The government didn't offer help to us (the elderly), they just talk. But their talk does not match their deeds. The government will have meetings with those rich or business men, but they ignore our requests to meet with us."

Hong Kong's government provides housing for low-income families but supply is limited. Hong Kong's $31 billion budget this year allocates an additional $19 million to enhance elderly services.

Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang has promised to address poverty and elderly issues during his five-year tenure as chief executive.

Mrs. Ng says she likes Hong Kong even if life is hard. But she wishes to live out her life in a more spacious public housing apartment where she and her husband can have some privacy.

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