Oxfam’s Fair the Sheep campaign reveals the absurdities behind inequality in Hong Kong.
(Photo: Ducky Tse / Oxfam)
Elderly paper scavengers hunched over pushing carts brimming with cardboard boxes. People working long hours making minimum wage, barely managing to scrape by. Families living in 100-square-foot rooms because they cannot afford anything bigger. We meet these people day in day out, and sadly with inequality worsening, an increasing number of people are living these realities.
Oxfam’s recently-released Hong Kong Inequality Report reflected this truth as poverty worsened over the last 15 years. The richest 10 per cent now make 44 times more than what the poorest decile make. The tentacles of poverty, however, are not just reaching a small minority. According to the latest statistics, 1.3 million people in Hong Kong live in poverty. Of this population, 920,000 live in working-poor households – households with family members who work yet remain poor. Further, 1 in 3 of our seniors live in poverty.
Despite worsening poverty over the past decade though, the Hong Kong government has accumulated more than HK$690 billion in surplus, meaning its total fiscal reserves have surpassed the HK$1.1 trillion mark. However, its recurrent expenditure as a share of its GDP in 2018-19 budget is a mere 14.4 per cent. Even worse, the government spends less on healthcare and social welfare – crucial basic services – compared to other OECD members such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, the UK, Canada, Sweden, and New Zealand.
To remedy the ever-worsening situation, we at Oxfam are urging the government to increase its recurrent expenditure to HK$36.7 billion so that it can invest more on social services, healthcare, education, housing and other areas. We are also calling on the government to improve labour protection and benefits to ensure people who work can provide for themselves and their families, and live with dignity. We have even launched a campaign entitled Fair the Sheep to raise public awareness about the absurdity of the systemic inequality we face in Hong Kong.
It is only by tackling the dangerous gap between the rich and poor through progressive policies in areas like governance, public spending, public services and labour rights that we can create a human economy that benefits all, not just the fortunate few. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela once said, as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.