Consider two single-mother-with-two-kids households. One has HK$12,000 a month to spend on food, utilities, transport and clothing, while the other has only HK$8,000. Are these two hard-up families equally poor?
To put it another way, consider those people you see/read about who help feed their kids by scavenging at wet markets for leftover produce at the end of the day. Do you think they are more likely to be living in public housing, or in private subdivided units?
For some reason, when Hong Kong established an official poverty line, the idiot bureaucrats didn’t include housing arrangements in the calculation. The result is bad data. A ‘working poor’ family in public housing might spend 10% of its income on rent, while the same family in a private subdivided apartment might see half their income go to the landlord – yet our ‘poverty line’ implies that the two households’ circumstances are the same.
An attempt to fix this has just been rejected by the Poverty Commission.
A university professor of social work on the body claimed that incorporating housing costs in the calculation was too brain-taxing for him. But the real opposition came from what might be called the labour/welfare-lobby subset of the pro-democracy camp, backed instinctively by much of Hong Kong’s general population of people who distrust if not loathe the government. Their assumption was that officials would take the new, more-informative stats and claim credit for a miraculous drop in poverty levels in the city.
Whether our leaders, in all their slimy duplicitousness, would try to get away with such a lame sleight-of-hand is debatable (given their past clumsy attempts to con the public over, say, electoral reform, we can’t rule it out). But that’s not a sound reason to keep a misleading poverty benchmark when we could have a more reliable one. The conclusion is that whatever this administration does, people will interpret its intentions as malign. Which means, in short, it might as well give up.
Even if they weren’t being evil on this occasion, the officials were being stupid. The correct way to go about this would have been to present the change in the poverty line as one that would accentuate the hardship suffered by the poor in private rentals, rather than apparently lessen that of their counterparts in almost-free public units. In other words – it would make the government look worse, not better. Frederick Fung and his buddies would have fallen over themselves to approve the proposal.
On the subject of inept governance and unintended consequences: a part-tongue-in-cheek but thought-provoking look at demonized Chief Executive CY Leung as ‘the father of Hong Kong independence’ and the inspiration for a golden age of vivid creativity in the city – here.