On Poverty

Some time ago, when I travelled to Japan, I remember reading from the guidebook that the country is able to boast that every Japanese is a middle class. From what I saw about the city and rural life there, I can say that it is not far from the truth. Not only do the people of Japan enjoy a decent standard of living, it is also a country with a very good social security system.

In comparison, it is shameful that while Hong Kong has a per capita GDP which, at over USD30,000, is ranked among the top thirty in the world, we also have a Gini Index of 53.3, which is not only the highest in Asia but also among the developed countries. Only countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, South Africa, etc. fare worse. This is a community where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is wider than ever. This is a community where one’s worth is measured in terms of wealth, where the poor is regarded as failure and is marginalized.

So the documentary mini-series on the topic of poverty in Hong Kong, which will be on show for a few weeks starting tonight, is a stark reminder of the situation. Filmed in the genre of reality show, the programme invited four privileged citizens – a listed company CEO, a red wine merchant, a lawyer-turned-housewife and a beauty pageant contestant whose father is the Asia-Pacific chairperson of a multi-national company – to experience the life of the poor people of Hong Kong. For one week, they were given only HKD15 and had to earn their living by cleaning dishes and clearing rubbish during the daytime. At night one of them slept in the street while others lived in the equally abhorring conditions of the poor.

Some of the observations or insight that they obtained from the experience are strong accusations of our social injustice and neglect:

“There are some poor people who are actually very hardworking, but they cannot get the return that their effort deserves. Still, they are very positive in facing their difficulties.”
“The worst thing [about the old people living along] is to gradually lose awareness of their own existence. They do not have any hope, just waiting to die. But things get very different when there is someone to care about them and give them hope.”
“Previously I didn’t know much about poverty, thinking that people are poor because they do not work hard enough. I don’t think like that any more now.”

Obviously, poverty in Hong Kong has become a structural problem which, if not properly attended to, will lead to the social divide being more and more unbridgeable, and the plight of the poor being passed from one generation to the next.

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