Poor KL Families Near Breaking Point: UN Report

63% of heads of households living in Kuala Lumpur low-cost flats said in Dec 2020 that they had difficulties meeting essential expenses, 57% couldn’t buy enough food, and 56% couldn’t pay bills on time.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — A United Nations report found that the socio-economic conditions of around half of low-income households in Kuala Lumpur continued to deteriorate despite government aid.

A report by UN agencies Unicef and UNFPA titled “Families on the Edge” discovered that unemployment among heads of households in the capital city doubled to 15 per cent in December 2020, compared with three months earlier. The UN survey was done before a nationwide lockdown was imposed since January 13.

The Families on the Edge report found that although overall median household income recovered to pre-Covid crisis level, nearly one in two (46 per cent) of households had not yet made such a recovery. Many were even worse off than in September 2020.

One in three adults in participating households remained jobless. Income levels among female-headed households and households headed by persons with disabilities (PWD) are now 24 per cent and 36 per cent lower respectively than at the end of 2019.

The poverty rate among the study sample stood at 42 per cent in December, with higher rates among PWD-headed households (55 per cent), and female-headed households (61 per cent). 

Moreover, many households whose earnings are somewhat above the official poverty line are experiencing difficulties in meeting their basic needs. Three in five heads of households (63 per cent) said they had difficulties meeting essential expenses; this was higher among women-headed households (66 per cent) and PWD-headed families (68 per cent).

About 57 per cent of households couldn’t buy enough food (64 per cent among female and 58 per cent among PWD heads of households). More than half, 56 per cent, were unable to pay bills on time (60 per cent among female and 47 per cent among PWD heads of households).

“The latest data from Families on the Edge suggests that while some families have started to recover, others have continued to deteriorate and, at the outset of MCO 2.0, were close to breaking point,” Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, representative for Unicef in Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Darussalam, said in a statement.

“We need to reimagine social protection for the most vulnerable in Malaysia, including through an expansion of coverage of income support for low income families, provision of targeted livelihoods support, particularly for the self-employed.”

The prevalence of stress among respondents increased from 19 per cent last September to 27 per cent in December 2020. A third of female heads of households are currently stressed, higher than 23 per cent in September 2020.

Half of heads of households and 59 per cent of female heads of households are worried about not being able to provide enough food for their family. One in four women heads of households are worried about the lack of employment opportunities for their family.

Two in five (43 per cent) of heads of households and 37 per cent among female heads of households are worried about not having enough money to provide proper education for their children.

Najib Assifi, UNFPA Representative in Malaysia, said increased pessimism among low-income urban families was worsening mental health issues.

“None are more affected than children, those with chronic illnesses, the disabled and of course those who care for them”.

Part 3 of the Families on the Edge report was based on a third round of data collection conducted by the Families on the Edge project in December 2020 during the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), before the Movement Control Order (MCO) 2.0 that was imposed since January 13. The MCO has been extended nationwide, except in Sarawak, to February 18. 

The latest Families on the Edge update described the socio-economic status and wellbeing of a group of 500 families with children in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost flats.

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