MP Howard Lee Raises Middle Class Plight: ‘Who Cares For The Carers?’

Ipoh Timor MP Howard Lee calls for a carer’s allowance beyond RM500 monthly: “Some people are having to give up their M40 jobs to suddenly take care of someone who used to be the main breadwinner. And now you both can’t work. Who cares for the carers?”

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 – Ipoh Timor MP Howard Lee Chuan How has highlighted the struggles of middle class Malaysians in caring for incapacitated family members, amid the lack of a public social care system.

Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli told Lee in Parliament last month that employers should be more open to hiring people who are part-time caregivers and that the government needs to consider social safety net reforms, instead of simply providing cash assistance to caregivers.

Lee, however, said in response that while employers should provide some flexibility for employees who need to provide care at home, there is a segment of society who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to provide full-time care.

“You’re not talking about whether or not you can take 20 or 30 or 40 per cent of your working day just to, you know, get lunch on their table, or to just go and wheel them from the living room to the bathroom or from the bedroom to the living room; you’re talking about people who need to be there 24 hours,” Lee told CodeBlue in an interview in Parliament last February 28.

“Full incontinence, absolute incapacitation – you’re talking even having to be there to avoid and prevent choking. So it’s a 24-hour job, right?”

Lee stressed that the immediate solution was to provide direct cash transfers, or a carer’s allowance, to full-time caregivers.

The Social Welfare Department’s (JKM) carer’s incentive of maximum RM500 a month, he said, was insufficient.

“I welcome that, but I feel we owe it to the Malaysian people, we owe it to the trend of agedness that our country is facing, we owe it to the electorate and the people – a little bit more than RM500 – because RM500 may just pay for your energy bill and food bill if you’re lucky,” Lee said.

“And you’re talking about some people who are having to give up their M40 jobs to suddenly take care of someone who used to be the main breadwinner. And now you both can’t work. Who cares for the carers?”

When asked how much JKM’s carer’s incentive should be increased, Lee said he didn’t have a figure at hand, as Pakatan Harapan (PH) was unable to put a figure for its Tawaran Harapan election manifesto back when the coalition was in the Opposition.

“I’m going to ask for at least minimum wage, but of course minimum wage is nowhere near enough.” Malaysia’s monthly minimum wage is RM1,500.

Grants Available For Mobile Care

Lee said that the Ministry of Entrepreneur and Cooperatives Development has loans, as well as direct and matching grants, for social enterprises, including both start-ups and companies over two years old, to provide items related to the SiagaJaga care economy plan that has yet to be tabled in Parliament.

“So there’s definitely room for grants to be allocated for something like the mobile care item under the care economy in Tawaran Harapan,” the government backbencher said.

He added that he has been in discussions with Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to bring in certain medical devices or equipment related to wound care, amid the non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis in the country involving conditions like diabetes.

Lee cited unofficial statistics that suggested up to 60 per cent or 70 per cent of all episodes in public health clinics or primary care are wound care cases.

“If you can decant that in-situ, meaning to have that delivered to people’s homes, you’d be greatly reducing the burden and bottlenecks that are right now being witnessed in primary care,” he said.

He added that there are some ongoing wound care innovations in the market that could greatly reduce the time taken and increase the efficacy of wound care.

The Ipoh Timor MP said he has begun piloting wound care projects in his constituency in the state of Perak.

Regulations Needed For All Forms Of Care

Lee stressed that any federal legislation drafted to formalise the care economy should involve stakeholders from all levels of government, pointing out that things like planning codes to mandate spaces for care in property developments fell under the purview of local councils.

Individual pieces of legislation across multiple ministries, he said, need to come from an overarching rolling plan, SiagaJaga, for the care economy and ageing population preparedness.

“I look forward to this multi-ministerial agenda being discussed in the Cabinet, if and when, as an outcome of this parliamentary session,” Lee said.

Homage, a care services provider, previously told CodeBlue that an Elderly Care Act is needed to formalise Malaysia’s care economy, including setting standards for providers of home care and regulating wages for care workers.

“I’ve also spoken to caregivers who say, don’t come and kacau us. And I speak to a lot of caregivers,” Lee said in response.

He, however, said there must be regulations for all forms of care in Malaysia beyond clinical or health care, such as elderly, disabled, child, and even postpartum care. “All these are forms of care and part and parcel of the care economy.”

The DAP legislator cited confinement centres as an example of care with differing local regulations between different local councils in states like Johor and Penang.

“Do we welcome that multiplicity of legislation and regulation on the same sector of care? Or does one need to start thinking there needs to be some kind of harmonisation, or federally led harmonisation? There’s no right or wrong on both approaches,” Lee said.

“Kudos to these local governments or state governments that have started the initiative of regulating, but at the end of the day, to harmonise or not, that’s another, I would even hazard to say, an ideological question.

“So it’s not as simple as just say, ‘oh federal, superimpose your power and will’ and say ‘let’s create legislation for the entire country’ because different places and different governments have different needs and different populations.

“I think this is a much deeper discussion and I welcome anyone who wants to mainstream these discussions. I’m more than happy, including with CodeBlue, to bring this discussion mainstream.”

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