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URBAN poverty has worsened in Malaysia and has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 epidemic. Budget 2022 needs to address it fully and not provide cosmetic touches here and there to impress or give false confidence to the people.
The B40 has been hit the hardest with debts and loss of jobs and income, whereas their “fixed costs” have been the same. It was revealed recently that about 20% of the M40 have now joined the B40 club!
Urban poverty in Malaysia can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s onwards when large numbers of people left the kampungs and estates, and settled down in towns and cities as squatters, finding work in the growing number of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Poor living conditions, government inaction, exploitation of workers and a lack of a minimum wage then spiralled urban poverty to become a major issue it is now.
Urban poverty has become a major cause of social ills and will destabilise society, if left unchecked.
Although better housing for the poor and imposition of a minimum wage have been somewhat realised over the decades, the basic cause of urban poverty remains without an effective remedy as the minimum wage or remuneration levels are not enough to cope with the cost of living and, therefore, education of their children, healthcare, savings for any eventuality or for social mobility have been much affected.
The government has to reassess the wage and remuneration levels in the private sector, which have been suppressed by the employment of foreign workers.
A look at the people’s housing project (PPR) flats and low-cost houses or apartments will reveal the true face of urban poverty – the poor and dirty living conditions, the vandalisation of public property all around, the defective 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 tackling rural poverty.
The rural poor can at least rely on agriculture as their source of income – derived from their oil palm trees or rubber smallholdings or fishing or planting crops.
The urban poor have nothing to rely on and must start from square one!
The government needs to come up with a wide range of incentives and assistance programmes to help the urban poor, who number in the millions now and who could destabilise the country in the future.
Apart from raising the minimum wage, other ways to help the poor could be the provision of public transport and the siting of SMEs and other industries where there is a high concentration of the urban poor, especially in the low- and medium-cost housing areas; provide temporary licences/permits for the setting up small businesses in the neighbourhood; enable more housewives and womenfolk to work with the government legislating for flexible working hours; reviewing some labour laws to help the lower income group; urge local government contractors to employ locals only for a wide range of general work, thereby increasing their income; urge the government and private sector to employ more of the semi-literate and physically challenged; and provide more social welfare programmes to help the urban poor tide over the difficulties brought about by the epidemic.