Lower-income families in dire need of targeted aid, loan moratorium

There is a need to reimagine social protection for the most vulnerable as unemployment rate among head of households doubled to 15% in December

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE government will need to provide more targeted assistance to lower-income families in urban areas to help them survive the Covid-19 pandemic as socio-economic conditions continue to worsen.

A survey by United Nations (UN) agencies Unicef and UNFPA undertaken in December 2020 during the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) found that the unemployment rate among head of households doubled to 15% in December.

The latest data from “Families on the Edge” report showed some families have started to recover, but others continued to deteriorate edging towards a breaking point at the outset of MCO 2.0.

Lembah Pantai MP Ahmad Fahmi Mohamed Fadzil said the situation on the ground is quite dire and people are desperately finding ways to make ends meet.

“I think, in terms of welfare, what really needs to happen is more targeted effort to make sure these families, whether in terms of jobs, income, education or general basic welfare, are truly taken care of,” Ahmad Fahmi told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said there are parents who complained about the children losing interest in school due to a lack of devices for digital learning.

Ahmad Fahmi, who is also PKR’s communications director, said people who live in private low-cost flats are doubly affected compared to those staying in the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s People’s Housing Projects because the former still have to pay maintenance fees.

He also raised concerns that many food basket programmes are given out by political operators instead of via elected representatives, including the Opposition.

Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, the representative for Unicef in Malaysia and special representative to Brunei Darussalam, said there is a need to reimagine social protection for the most vulnerable in Malaysia, including through an expansion of coverage of income support for low-income families, as well as provision of targeted livelihoods support, particularly for the self-employed.

In Part 3 of the “Families on the Edge” report, it found that one in three adults in participating households remain unemployed. Income levels among female-headed households and households headed by persons with disabilities (PWD) are now 24% and 36% lower respectively than at the end of 2019.

The continued reduction in income experienced by a large proportion of study participants resulted in persistent poverty among this group.

The poverty rate among the study sample stood at 42% in December, with higher rates among PWD-headed households (55%) and female-headed households (61%).

Additionally, many households whose earnings are somewhat above the official poverty line are experiencing difficulties in meeting their basic needs.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, Malaysia’s unemployment rate rose 4.5% in 2020, the highest rate recorded since 1993.

Meanwhile, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh said the most crucial now is a loan moratorium to prevent businesses from shutting down and people from going bankrupt. With that, she said cashflow will be more manageable.

She also said the Wage Subsidy Programme could be improved as more than RM600 subsidy is needed for those earning less than RM4,000.

Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng said his service centre has been receiving calls from people asking for assistance in terms of money and goods, and many of these individuals are senior citizens between mid-50s and early 80s.

As an Opposition MP, he said he can only give basic food supplies such as bags of rice, cooking oil, dry noodles and canned food to the affected people, but there will be people who are left out due to a lack of resources.

He said the bureaucracy in applying for government-related help should be cut down to assist these people.


Read our previous report here

Low income urban families at breaking point: UN study