Post-MCO, KL Urban Poor Still Earning Less Than 2019: Study

Over a third struggle to buy sufficient food for their families, while female-headed households are recovering more slowly and also remain more at risk of backsliding than other households, according to a United Nations study.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — Low-income urban families’ household income remained 10 per cent lower compared to last year, even though their unemployment rate fell after strict Covid-19 movement restrictions ended, according to a study.

The study commissioned by United Nations agencies UNICEF and UNFPA in partnership with DM Analytics, a Malaysia-based public policy and research firm, showed although the median household income among participants rose by 23 per cent between May and September this year, it was still about 10 per cent lower compared to 2019.

The study involved 500 families with children in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost flats that recovered from the Movement Control Order (MCO) period between March 8 until May 13. That includes 2,832 households, comprising 59 per cent adults and 41 per cent children.

According to the “Families on the Edge” report, 50 per cent of families in low-cost flats are in relative poverty and 37 per cent among them struggle to purchase adequate food for their families. About 25 per cent of the respondents have a monthly household income below RM2,000.

It is to be noted that the median monthly household income of the lowest category in B40 group is RM1,929.

This study aimed to support the government’s efforts to alleviate the direct and indirect impacts of Covid-19 on vulnerable groups.

The study says that some children from low-income families are at risk of dropping out of school as a result of the combined financial and psychological impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.

“As Malaysia continues to battle Covid-19, it is critical that we take the opportunities created by the 2021 budget and 12th Malaysia Plan to rethink social protection in Malaysia, to ensure that no family, and no child, is left behind,” Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Representative for UNICEF in Malaysia, was quoted saying.

Female-headed households were considered as a disadvantaged group and at the outset of the crisis. They seem to be recovering more slowly and also remain more at risk of backsliding than other households. These families appear to be struggling more than others to meet their basic needs.

This is because the high burden of care in these families manifests itself in terms of higher rates of unemployment, as well as higher rates of dependence on insecure self-employment.

The report also highlighted the toll that the Covid-19 crisis has imposed on mental health and family relationships in many low-income households, especially among female-headed households in particular.

A total of 20 per cent of respondents have felt depressed, with more such cases among female headed households. This validates the fact that the negative psychosocial impacts of the crisis have outlived the MCO.

Continued financial insecurity was reported as a key driver of poor mental health, with some evidence emerging of increased tensions between spouses and between carers of children in some households.

A total of 25 per cent of 665 full-time workers in Malaysia have expressed their fear of losing their jobs, whereas only 5 per cent had that fear before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a survey by market research agency YouGov.

A total of 17 per cent of female heads of household, and 14 per cent of heads of household with disabilities expect their financial status to be better in the next six months, according to the UNICEF-UNFPA study.

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