NEAC urged to ‘expand safety net’

PETALING JAYA: The proposed new body, dubbed National Economic Action Council (NEAC) 2.0, should look into expanding social safety net programmes for the middle income group (M40), said social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

Apart from the low-income (B40) group, (M40) households were also affected by the economic slowdown, he said.

“The new body must have a clearer agenda, and formulate comprehensive measures to check increasing prices of food, property and healthcare,” he said.

He was responding to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement that a new body similar to NEAC would be set up to face economic challenges.

“I hope the special body would include representatives from consumer groups, NGOs and the private sector to provide input on the real situation and problems on the ground,” he said.

To check the rising prices of food, the government should enforce price controls throughout the supply chain, from producers and manufacturers to retailers, Lee said.

He said Malaysians were also concerned about beyond affordable property prices, and expensive healthcare.

Lauding Bank Negara for recently launching a RM1bil fund for affordable homes for the B40 group, he said such programmes should also be extended to the M40 group as they too were having difficulty securing housing loans.

“The M40 group also needs assistance to buy homes, as the rising cost of living has taken a toll on them too,” he said.

He called on the government to extend the proposed health insurance scheme to the M40 group.

Lee said Khazanah Research Institute’s study noted a huge disparity in the income threshold of the M40 group across all states.

According to the 2016 household income distribution data, the M40 group’s income ranged between RM4,360 and RM9,619 a month.

“For example, those earning about RM5,870 a month fall under the T20 (high 20%) category in Kelantan and M40 category in Kuala Lumpur, although according to the national scale they are in the M40 group.

“Therefore, NEAC 2.0 must consider the local situation when seeking solutions to problems affecting the M40 group, taking into account different income thresholds in different states,” Lee said.

The Finance Ministry had also stated in 2017 that 94% of Malaysians did not have savings to last them six months in case of job loss or an emergency, he said.