Hong Kong's inequality widens, official figures show

The wealth gap in Hong Kong, already one of the world's widest, is worsening as the rich get richer and the poor struggle to make ends meet, official figures show.

Income distribution measured by the Gini Co-efficient, where inequality is indexed on a scale of zero to one, climbed from 0.525 to 0.537 over the decade to the end of 2011, according to the latest figures from the statistics bureau.

A Gini figure of zero indicates perfect equality, while 1.0 would be a society in which one person had all the wealth.

Hong Kong's result is around the same as Thailand and ranks among the highest in Asia, worse than mainland China, Singapore and Vietnam.

"There is a layer of people, maybe about a fifth of the population, where it is extremely difficult to expect them to do better economically," said former lawmaker Christine Loh, head of the independent Civic Exchange think-tank.

"Our level of public assistance has been kept extremely low for far too long," she added, referring to neglect of low-skilled workers, the sick and the elderly.

Outgoing leader Donald Tsang, who is leaving office at the end of June, identified the wealth gap as one of the issues of "greatest public concern" but has been criticised for paying lip service to the needs of the poor.

Incoming Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged to tackle the city's soaring property prices and reinstate a poverty commission to come up with concrete policies to help the underprivileged.

"This isn't just a question of wealth gap or income gap. I am more concerned about the absolute income and the living conditions of the lower strata of society," he told reporters Tuesday.

Hong Kong is known as Asia's centre for banking, finance and duty-free shopping.

Its free-wheeling economy posted growth of five percent last year thanks in part to an influx of wealthy mainland Chinese visitors.

The government said that when taxes and benefits were taken into account, the Gini Co-efficient was unchanged over the past five years, while the figure for "economically active households" actually fell from 0.436 to 0.430.

It said policies such as the introduction of a statutory minimum wage last year helped to mitigate the "rising trend in income disparity in Hong Kong".

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