Go beyond subsidies to help the poor

PETALING JAYA: Restructuring subsidies is a good first step, but the government must also look at other aspects such as housing and public health in order to help the poor and vulnerable, say experts and consumer groups.

There will always be individuals who fall through the cracks and become the hardcore poor, they said, but what is critical is to build a social safety net and support system to “catch” them.

However, they lauded the administration’s concerted focus on ending poverty and aiding low income individuals and families in the 12th Malaysia Plan Mid-Term Review.

“There is a clear commitment from the government to recognise and address these issues,” said sociologist and poverty researcher Dr Denison Jayasooria.

“But it needs a more concerted effort and more organised mechanisms to address the problem in an inclusive way and by bringing all the actions and actors together,” said Denison, who is a former professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The 12MP Mid-Term Review released yesterday outlined the unity government’s measures to aid low income individuals and end hardcore poverty by restructuring how subsidies and aid are distributed.

The government will use a central database system called PADU that streamlines all types of government aid that is currently spread out across different agencies and ministries.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also said cash transfers and the various programmes under the Payung Rahmah initiative, such as discounted sales of household necessities and budget restaurant menus, will be continued.

While the Rahmah programmes have been beneficial, consumer advocate Datuk Paul Selvaraj said there are other factors, such as access to quality healthcare and affordable housing, that can help bring down the cost of living.

“Food and daily household goods are one element of the cost of living picture.

“There are also other costs that weigh families down, such as schooling, healthcare and housing. These also need to be tackled,” said Selvaraj, who is deputy president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca).

Another potential financial time bomb is the retirement savings of many working Malaysians that have been hollowed out due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, said Selvaraj.

“This is a future crisis that the government has to absolutely do something about. We have to rebuild our social protections.”

Echoing this sentiment, Denison said the problems could be too large for any government to tackle alone.

“The 12MP mentioned that the government wants to work with civil society as charity and faith groups are good at reaching the pockets of poverty that elude the state’s machinery. This is something laudable, and we hope that the civil service takes it seriously and integrates civil society into programmes aimed at the poor,” Dennison said.

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