The political crisis and pandemic trigger poverty in Hong Kong, one of the richest places on the planet

Crammed into a studio, “Rainbow” and her family they barely make ends meet, like thousands of households that have fallen into poverty during the last two years, due to the impact of the political crisis and the pandemic in Hong Kong.

A year ago most of the days the husband of “Rainbow” (nickname to preserve his identity) go back to the 26 square meter studio without having managed to work as an electrician.

“Before the pandemic, I used to work 20-25 days a month. And now only four or five days. There was a month in which he did not work at all, “laments this 43-year-old woman.

Hong Kong it is one of the richest territories in the world, but also one of the most uneven.

Its GDP per capita is about $ 48,000. (41,000 euros). And after a year of unusual public spending due to the pandemic, the local government has ample reserves, of around 116,000 million dollars (98,500 million euros).

The city of 7.5 million people has about 5,000 billionaires, a figure that has progressed 48% in five years, according to Knight Frank’s annual wealth report. And 280,000 millionaires.

The wealth of the rich increases, but poverty too.

In the past two years, the number of households earning the equivalent of $ 1,170 or less per month it has doubled to 149,000, according to a recent government study.

The “Rainbow” family is one of them even though just a year ago income almost tripled.

He manages to limit daily food expenses to the equivalent of 13 dollars (11 euros) and she does her best to keep her 4 and 18-year-old daughters eating in a balanced way. “Adults eat canned food and children eat fresh products,” he explains.

Recession

The former British colony was hit by the pandemic when the economy was already in recession due to months of political crisis and mass demonstrations in 2019.

These demonstrations protested against the increasing Chinese tutelage, despite the principle “One country, two systems”, and against the local executive – aligned with Beijing – for his inability to curb inequalities and solve the real estate crisis that makes Hong Kong one of the most expensive cities in the world to stay in.

The progression of poverty is alarming in Hong Kong due to the low magnitude of social subsidiess, says Lai Hiu-tung, of the former Concern for Grassroots’ Livelihood Alliance.

“Most of the aid they are exceptional and short term“, Explain.

Maggie, 35, is part of the hundreds of people who depended on food aid distributed twice a week by the Lai association.

After you got pregnant the second time she did not find a job as a sales clerk and he no longer has a fixed salary to support his two daughters.

Her husband, who is also a salesman, suffered a 30% drop in salary per month during the pandemic.

“Your company policy has changed and has much less commissions“, Add.

The couple considered the possibility of working for food delivery platforms, but there is a lot of competition. “There are many unemployed people, you are not the only one looking for a second job.”

The unemployment rate rose in early 2021 to the highest in 17 years to stand at 7.2%. Since then it has regressed somewhat.

The protesters accuse the head of the local government, Carrie Lam, of turning a blind eye to the economic plight of her voters and of focus on the crackdown on pro-democracy opponents.

Lately there have been promotions among senior security officials. Former Security Minister John Lee has become Lam’s advisor on a position that usually deals with social problems.

Lam states that will convert the house in the central theme of his mandate, which ends next summer.

The waiting time for social housing around 5.8 years, 12 months longer than when Lam came to power.

The “Rainbow” family has been waiting for seven years and lives in transitional housing.

She considers herself lucky because her family used to live in a hovel like those built illegally on the roof of buildings.

“I sleep badly and I feel miserable” seeing how our savings are shrinking, she confesses however. “All the people are under pressure.”

AFP Agency

PB

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