Oxfam Hong Kong said on Wednesday that the income gap in the SAR had widened during the pandemic and had now reached a "critical point", as it urged the government to announce plans for tackling poverty in the upcoming policy address.
Representatives of the NGO cited official statistics showing that the richest 10 percent of local households brought in 47 times the sum brought home by the poorest 10 percent during the first quarter of this year. That compared to a multiple of 34 in 2019.
"In just three years it's risen to 47 times, which is a severe level. The reason for the [widening] income gap is that the lowest income people were earning less and less because the minimum wage was frozen or they lost their jobs, while the highest income groups were earning more money," the organisation's director general, Kalina Tsang, told the press conference.
Oxfam said that more than a quarter of people living in poverty, defined as those in households with a monthly income less than half the median in the SAR, were unemployed in the first quarter of this year. That's eight times the level among people living above the poverty line.
The group said those who worked in sectors such as retail and catering were the hardest hit, as well as those in low-skilled occupations.
Tsang urged the government to introduce a range of policies to help low-income people, including raising the minimum wage from HK$37.5 to HK$45.4. Oxfam said the higher wage floor would benefit almost 340,000 low-paid workers and cover 9 percent of the workforce.
It's also proposing extending a temporary unemployment relief scheme, launched in March, until the end of this year. Under the scheme eligible people were allowed to claim a subsidy of $10,000.
"Even though the government is beginning to relax [Covid restrictions], the situation is not yet completely back to normal. It takes time. But figures show that the workers are facing immediate difficulties, and we think the government must roll out some measures to relieve their hardship instantly."
Chief Executive John Lee gives his first policy address on October 19.