Hong Kong City Profile
This exploration will be conducted with the purpose of investigating the consequences of socio-economic inequality in Hong Kong.
Figure 1: Hong Kong cage homes; Landlords charge an average of $200 per month for a single cage. There are often 20 cages to a room. (Atlas Obscura)
Aside from the investigation question stated above, I would like to pose the following questions for further enquiry:
1. What are the aspects that contribute to this socio-economic inequality?
2. What are the inevitable implications of this disparity?
3. What are the government's policies regarding housing in Hong Kong? How have they changed over time?
4. How could we improve accessibility and quality of housing options for the poorest urban residents?
5. How could we alleviate this socio-economic inequality?
Hong Kong: An Introduction
Here is a graph that illustrates the median multiple of house price divided by household income. Compared with other major international hubs, Hong Kong ranks the highest in housing affordability, above cities like London and New York.
On the glossy surface, Hong Kong is an international finance hub and bustling port, home to over 7 million residents. It is filled with business people, professionals, and the ultra-rich. The significant minority - those living in poverty - are severely disregarded. Over 1.2 million Hong Kong citizens live in poverty, dealing with the rising living costs and struggling to survive. Ever since the handover in 1997, the rich have been getting richer, and the poorer have been getting poorer. As the overall economic growth has occurred, the poor have been left behind. This acute polarisation in wealth and lifestyle is evident both in quantitative data such as statistics and in qualitative data such as interviews and quotes. Hong Kong's gini co-efficient, the measurement of this wealth gap, reached its peak in 2011, at 0.537. There are a number of factors contributing to this socio-economic disparity, with its damaging implications visible in many areas. This profile will draw on a range of sources and data, in order to outline the aspects that widen this gap, as well as the effects and possible ways to alleviate the inequality.
Below is a video titled: "How economic inequality harms societies", and is a Ted talk by Richard Wilkinson. The main point he is presenting is that in the rich developed world, wellbeing is no longer dependent on national income and economic growth, but rather on the differences between us and where we are in relation to each other. It includes a huge amount of relevant quantitative data that charts and proves how societies that are more equal are healthier and happier.
The bar graph above demonstrates the exact number of billionaires in Hong Kong, and shows the clear upwards trend. In 2003, we only had 11. A sharp increase, only faltering slightly in 2009, has led to the current number - 45 billionaires. The concentration of wealth in the city is getting ever clearer.
From a geographical perspective, Hong Kong's inequalities are spatially visible. The map represents that high-income residents are more likely to live on Hong Kong Island, whilst low-income residents are more likely to reside in the Western and Northern New Territories. In Kowloon, it is more complicated - Sham Shui Po, the poorest district in Hong Kong, is right next to the contrastingly rich Kowloon City area.
Due to the governments considerable efforts in this aspect, public housing accounts for up to 31% of total housing stock in Hong Kong. The graph below presents the share of public housing, showing that only 17 public housing estates are based on Hong Kong Island, whilst the New Territories has 131 public housing estates, reflecting the inequalities geographically. This is the outcome of the government's policies to build new towns for cheap housing.
This is an expository piece on the cage homes or ‘coffin homes’ that a surprising amount of Hong Kongers call home. These cage homes are one of the city’s low-income housing alternatives, to quote the article:
"No one wants to live here, but we need to survive," said Mak, who works as a janitor at the nearby Times Square. "It's a step up from being on the streets."
As a last resort before sleeping on the streets, this is where the city’s poorest citizens are living. Contrary to popular belief, these people are not lazy. In a city where the minimum wage is a meagre HK$28 (~US$3.61) per hour, where jobs require employees to work long, hard hours, it is difficult for many citizens to pull together $200 a month, simply for a place to sleep. More and more people are being made redundant, and have nowhere to go other than these tiny spaces. The article paints a grim image of the living spaces, where people have to deal with living with 19 strangers, in squalid living conditions, with serious safety issues.
Conclusions and Looking Ahead
It is clear that the wealth gap will continue to widen if measures are not taken to bridge this blatant disparity.
3 ways to alleviate the wealth gap:
1. Increasing the minimum wage.
A minimum wage increase would lift thousands out of poverty. One major factor that contributes to the economic disparity is income inequality. Currently, the minimum wage for an hour in Hong Kong is $28, which is a meagre sum. A slight increase in this number would make a world of difference for many low-income employees, and would not have an overall negative effect on economic growth.
2. Increasing taxes
It is widely known that Hong Kong's taxes are very low compared to that of say the United States or the United Kingdom - thus, one way of alleviating this economic inequality would be to increase taxes. However, Hong Kong's low tax regime is a point that attracts businesses and people to invest in the stock market. This proposal would not sit well with the rich and powerful majority.
3. Encouraging social responsibility
Another potential way to alleviate the economic disparity would be to encourage businesses and landlords to be socially responsible. For example: reducing rents so as not to push out small, independent businesses. This would directly support the needy, and prevent economic monopolisation.
4. Invest in education
Differences and improvements in early education are essential factors that contribute to lasting economic inequalities over time and across generations. To ensure children a consistent and lasting education, is to ensure equal opportunities.
Chen, Liyan. "Beyond The Umbrella Movement: Hong Kong's Struggle With Inequality In 8 Charts." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 08 Oct. 2014. Web. 08 May 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2014/10/08/beyond-the-umbrella-revolution-hong-kongs-struggle-with-inequality-in-8-charts/2/>.
Gottlieb, Benjamin. "Hong Kong's Poorest Living in 'coffin Homes'" CNN. Cable News Network, 26 July 2011. Web. 08 May 2015. <http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/07/25/hongkong.coffin.homes/>.
Leung, Sophie. "A Widening Wealth Gap in Hong Kong." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 21 July 2011. Web. 08 May 2015. <http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/magazine/a-widening-wealth-gap-in-hong-kong-07212011.html#p2>.
Chen, Teping. "Hong Kong’s Wealth Gap Gets Larger." China Real Time Report RSS. The Wall Street Journal, 19 June 2012. Web. 08 May 2015. <http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/06/19/hong-kongs-wealth-gap-gets-larger/>.
Kandt, Jens. "Mapping Social Determinants." LSE Cities. London School of Economics, Nov. 2011. Web. 08 May 2015. <http://lsecities.net/media/objects/articles/mapping-social-determinants/en-gb/>.