Wednesday, May 11, 2011 Growing wealth gap shows how HK is a city divided



Growing wealth gap shows how HK is a city divided

Richest district is three times better off than the poorest

The wealth gap divides not only individuals and families but also parts of the city, with a family in the richest district earning three times as much as one in the poorest.

Wong Tai Sin was the poorest area last year, with average family income of HK$19,300 a month, up HK$500 from a year earlier. Central and Western, meanwhile, overtook Wan Chai to become the richest with HK$60,800 a month, up HK$11,600.

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, of the University of Hong Kong's department of social work and social administration, was not surprised.

"It is normal that low-income families aggregate in several districts. That is Hong Kong. There is also a large variation in income even within the same district," he said.

Property agents said the surge in household income for residents in Central and Western was due to construction of the MTR West Island Line, expected by 2014.

Anthony Wong Ka-lam, a senior sales manager with Hong Kong Property Services, said there were 40 per cent fewer housing vacancies in Central and Western last year than in 2009 as better-off people moved in to take advantage of the new line.

"Those who move into the Western district are usually middle-class families with children. The transport will be more convenient and it is known as a district with elite schools," he said.

Patrick Fung Kim-chiu, a sales director at Midland Realty, said the new MTR line had also sped up urban renewal in the district, with more housing available in the past few years.

Sze Lai-shan, of the Society for Community Organisation, said the disparity was due to poor job hunting assistance and vocational training at district level. "Last year's economy was good, but the basic level residents could benefit from was very little. Even if they had a small pay rise, it could not compensate for the inflation rate," she said.

Cheung Kwok-wai, 56, who earns HK$11,000 a month as a security officer, is not eligible for most social welfare. He had a rise of HK$100 last year. He lives alone in a 150 sq ft flat in Sham Shui Po, the city's second poorest district.

"We sandwich-class workers have always been the most pathetic sector in Hong Kong. Earning HK$10,000 a month is not bad in Hong Kong, but everything has become expensive," he said.

Cheung pays rent of HK$2,500 a month, a quarter of his salary, and also pays several hundred dollars for water and electricity bills. He spends more than HK$3,000 on food and another HK$2,000 on other shopping. His employer provides him with transport.

"Everyone in the sandwich class wants to own his property. But I only have HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 left a month, how can I buy a flat?" he asked.

He wants to apply for public housing but single people must earn less than HK$9,200 a month to be eligible. "Maybe I can be eligible after I retire in nine years."

He wants the government to restore the Home Ownership Scheme and provide more public housing.

"The government always stresses that they are serving the public. But I cannot see any welfare that can benefit me," he said.

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