URBAN poverty has worsened in Malaysia and has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Budget 2022 needs to address this issue fully instead of providing cosmetic touches here and there to impress or give false confidence to the people.
The B40 (lower income) group has been hit the hardest by the loss of jobs and income; furthermore, it was revealed recently that about 20% of the M40 (middle income) group have dropped into the B40 category.
Urban poverty has become a major cause of social ills – to the point that it could destabilise society. Although better housing and the imposition of a minimum wage have been somewhat realised over the decades, urban poverty remains an issue as the minimum wage is not enough to cope with the cost of living. This affects education, healthcare, savings and social mobility.
A look at the PPR (people’s public housing) flats and low-cost houses or apartments will reveal the true face of urban poverty: the dirty living conditions, the vandalised public property, inadequate municipal services, social ills, broken families, and crime. Children growing up in this environment will be greatly affected.
The methods of addressing urban poverty must be different from those used to tackle rural poverty. The rural poor can at least rely on agriculture – oil palm or rubber smallholdings, fishing or planting crops – as a source of income. The urban poor have nothing to rely on but wages, which are not enough to live on. The government must reassess remuneration levels in the private sector, where wages have been suppressed by the employment of cheap foreign labour.
The government also needs to come up with a wide range of incentives and assistance programmes to help the urban poor, such as easing access to public transport; siting SMEs and other industries where there is a high concentration of the urban poor; providing temporary licences/permits for setting up small businesses in the neighbourhood; enabling more women to enter the workforce by legislating flexible working hours that allow childcare; incentivising local government contractors to employ locals only for general work; providing more social welfare programmes to help the urban poor tide over the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
Many countries are successfully eliminating urban poverty by improving income levels and living conditions to ensure upward social mobility in the future.
Malaysia must eliminate racial and provincial reckonings in its efforts to overcome poverty, as there are large numbers of the poor among all races.
The government should not myopically focus on poverty as a political or racial issue but should address it as a constant socio- economic problem besetting the whole country.
Sg Buloh, Selangor