In the beginning of the year, some observers talked of the coronavirus as “the great equaliser.” The phrase was meant to highlight how the pandemic would affect everyone — rich and poor, Black and white, urban and rural.
Almost a year later, the expression seems overly optimistic.
As the outbreak continues its assault across the globe, Covid-19 has exposed quite the opposite: the stark, ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor across access to healthcare and wage security, to work, education, and technology. The crisis has also exacerbated existing socio economic problems, including structural racism and poverty.
In the United States, low-income adults have been among the hardest hit by the economic fallout. Only 23 per cent said they are able to rely on emergency funds to withstand a job loss, sickness or an economic downturn, compared with 48 per cent of middle-income and 75 per cent of upper-income adults, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Around the world, The World Bank estimates the pandemic will push 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty this year, with countries like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and the Philippines sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia hit hardest.
Hong Kong is no different. Like nearly everywhere else, Covid-19 has deepened wealth inequalities in the city, which ranks the eighth most unequal society in the world with a Gini coefficient of 0.539, according to the World Population Review.
Low-income employees have remained largely uncompensated for the elevated risks they face in their jobs as caregivers and hospital workers. Children living in cramped apartments and subdivided housing have little space for homework and activities, not to mention educational challenges due to insufficient internet and computer resources. Homeless people are suffering from reduced support in services and facilities, due to the restrictions on group gatherings.
Below, we shed light on some of these issues – and how Hongkongers can give back in Hong Kong during Covid-19:
The digital divide
The pandemic is contributing to the acceleration of technological change, helping businesses like startups stay open online and enabling many people to work from home. But at the same time, those without digital access – be it due to poor computing equipment, slow internet speed or inadequate home environments – are left behind.
Students from low-income families, who have had to switch to online learning, fall in the latter category. According to a survey of over 700 Hong Kong children from grassroots families conducted by the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) in August, around 40 per cent did not have web access at home, and 90 per cent couldn’t afford the technology.
To help them, the government and trusts like the Community Care Fund have allocated subsidies to enable low-income families to purchase software and computers. Meanwhile, in March, the Hong Kong Jockey Club joined forces with the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups and The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association to provide mobile data to 100,000 primary and secondary pupils in need.
You can give back in Hong Kong during Covid-19 by donating to the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups and The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong, as well as SoCo, which is also looking for volunteers.
Tackling food insecurity
Over the past few years, the number of registered street sleepers in Hong Kong has been on the rise. The number nearly tripled from 511 in 2011-2012 to over 1,423 as of July 2020 – although experts believe that figure to be far higher.
Poverty in the city has reached record levels, with 1.4 million people, or 20.4 per cent of the population, living below the poverty line according to a 2018 government report. Due to the pandemic, experts expect these numbers to skyrocket. As a result, even more individuals and households may go hungry or undernourished.
Food charities such as Feeding Hong Kong hope to remedy this worsening issue. Over the past months, the NGO solicited the public for both donations and volunteers, especially after seeing a major drop in manpower in the wake of Covid-19 and social distancing measures.
It has also set up a virtual food drive to direct financial donations to the purchase of shelf-stable essentials such as rice, dried noodles and canned goods, and donated 610,000 meals between February and May to those unable to provide for their own sustenance. Similarly, Foodlink Foundation has been collecting and distributing donations of food products across the city.
Impact Hong Kong, which focuses on helping the city’s homeless, has been providing a fridge and food service for those in need at the Guestroom, its drop-in centre in Lai Chi Kok. To date, they’ve been serving around 2,000 meals a week.
To give back in Hong Kong during Covid-19, you can donate to and volunteer with any of the organisations above.
Health and hygiene challenges
The pandemic has had far-reaching implications on global health product supply chains – something that has affected low-income families and individuals, in particular.
Underprivileged communities across the world are now facing shortages of soap, cleaning products and household items. Girls and women are some of the worst hit, with period poverty becoming a worsening issue across countries like Kenya, Nepal and Cambodia.
In Hong Kong, local charity HandsOn Hong Kong has been partnering with other organisations to provide supplies like masks, sanitisers, cleaning products, tissue paper and more to the older individuals, people with disabilities, street cleaners and poorer households.
Across the city, Crossroads Foundation and Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong are also accepting donations of hygiene products, while Soap Cycling is striving to deliver hygiene kits containing hand soap and sanitiser to various districts across Hong Kong.
Advocating for better menstrual health, social enterprise Luuna Naturals launched a global initiative earlier this year called, A Better Period, which donates a portion of profits towards the distribution of organic pads to vulnerable groups affected by the virus, including frontline medical staff and low-income families. They’ve donated over 30,000 pads to date.
You can help by joining the NGOs’ volunteer programs, as well as donating and helping distribute supplies.
Disability and accessibility
In April, an investigation by the Hong Kong Blind Union revealed Covid-19’s “disproportionate” impact on the organisation’s 2,000 visually challenged members. The government, the report said, failed to provide accessible information regarding Covid-19 infections, mask availability and other essential updates because it failed to make its coronavirus news apps user-friendly for the city’s visually impaired population.
They weren’t the only group left out of the conversation. A number of disabled people – who account for some 578,600 of Hong Kong’s population of 7.4 million, according to 2015 government reports – have found it hard to get hold of supplies and access basic services and information during the pandemic.
Institutions supporting youth with disabilities like the SAHK Jockey Club Elaine Field School in Tai Po and the Po Leung Kuk Yu Lee Mo Fan Memorial School, in North Point have stepped forward to provide masks and anti-bacterial products to these overlooked communities.
Others, like the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation have been working with charitable organisations to alleviate the financial burdens due to soaring prices of epidemic protective gears. They are not only distributing supplies to those with disabilities or chronic illnesses but also offering online classes and consultation services via social media.
You can give back in Hong Kong during Covid-19 by donating and volunteering with the organisations mentioned above.