Inequality in Hong Kong

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) released an article today called, “Too poor to work, too poor not to,” discussing the sentencing of a 73 year-old man who was convicted of using a person’s identification card in order to obtain the ability to work for a wage.

While I would not comment on the judicial system of Hong Kong, this ruling should spark a debate among the city’s citizens to question whether it should be proud of having a budget surplus, year-on-year. In the US, one of the top, if not usually the top, money spent is on social security. I wonder what it must be in Hong Kong?

The city officials need to begin addressing these key issues that will quite right stain its reputation as “Asia’s World City,” a brand name that they do not deserve. If this was the situation with your domestic house hold, how would you feel about your grandparents taking bus trips between neighborhoods of Hong Kong simply to make ends meet with selling cardboard?

Due to the paywall of the SCMP, I have inserted the article in quotations below. It was reported by Jennifer Ngo, a reporter with the SCMP who covers social issues, poverty and welfare, social injustice, human rights, culture and community in Hong Kong:

An octogenarian who works as a cleaner despite receiving a head injury last year, and a 73-year-old security guard who faked his age to continue working – two examples of elderly Hongkongers denied their retirement by the need to make ends meet.

The security guard, Shih Chiao-jen, was jailed for four months last month for using a false identity card to claim he was 11 years younger, a case which shone a light on the lack of retirement protection in the city.

“If I work, I earn a few dollars. If I don’t work, I use those dollars without replacing them,” said the cleaner, Wong Siu-ying, 85. Wong previously held a job handing out fliers on the street until she fell and injured her head last year. Now she takes the odd cleaning job while hoping to find something more regular.

“I’ll do anything. If I don’t, I won’t even be able to pay the rent,” she said.

In her spare time, Wong collects cardboard and rubbish to sell in an effort to make a few extra dollars. She says she sometimes travels from her home in Choi Hung to as far as Sha Tin or Ma On Shan to collect cardboard.

“It’s HK$4 to get there and back, but the stuff is worth over HK$10. You can’t choose how much you earn – you can only try to earn something,” she said.

Wong is not on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance – a means-tested supplement for those whose income is not sufficient to meet basic needs – but does receive HK$2,285 a month in Old Age Living Allowance.

“This is the result of having no retirement protection,” said Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation. “We are pushing our elderly back out to work in the streets, because retirement would mean not having enough to live on.”

Ng called on the government to revive talks on implementing a universal pension scheme and greater retirement protection.

“While Shih did use fake identification, it’s important to place his actions in context – he just wanted to work. He needed to work,” Ng said.

The elderly work not because they love their jobs, but because they need to earn to live, he said.

Ng said Shih would have found it hard to find a full-time job had he disclosed his age.

Cleaning and building security are the most common areas of work for elderly people, Ng said. Some also work as hawkers, give out fliers or deliver parcels.

There is no statutory retirement age in Hong Kong. Individual companies and industries observe their own retirement age, and some have age limits.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying commissioned a public consultation on retirement protection earlier this year following the release last year of a report detailing the findings of a one-year study on the issue.”

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