URBAN POVERTY NEEDS MORE PRIORITY
I wish to commend Maria Chin Abdullah for her pertinent article – Uplift the Poor Now, in todays Sun newspaper.
Her article raises urban poverty issues that are relevant for all the mass media and all Malaysians to review and to provide solutions, with greater priority!
For too long our economic planning has focussed on measures to reduce Rural Poverty. This is still important. But we can take pride and satisfaction that national poverty has been considerably reduced from about 50% of our population at Merdeka in 1957, to a low figure of about 1%, as of now.
In the past the poverty was mainly in the rural areas. But with the steady migration from the rural to the urban areas, urban poverty has become more significant in terms of numbers and the greater challenges faced by the urban poor.
For instance, the urban poor have to buy all their food and cannot subsist on farming and fishing as in the rural areas. Transport, housing and health costs are more expensive for the urban poor. Indeed the quality of life for the urban poor could well be generally lower than that the rural poor.
This thesis is worth studying and the Economic Planning Unit and the Treasury could undertake an updated survey, to innovate new policies and measures to better combat,urban poverty as well as do more for the rural poor.
Maria Chin has indeed drawn public attention once again to the great concern we all have for the widening gap between the Rich and the Poor in our country. The Prime Minister Tun Mahathir has recently been emphasizing the need to do more to narrow the wealth gap , but the new socio economic policies need to give higher priority to bring about more solutions to solve the problems of the poor, before those poor of the Bottom 40% income group , become more restless. This can cause more insecurity and much social instability.
Our economic and budget planning and implementation should also become more balanced. We should be concerned more with anti poverty problems and the fulfillment of our UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that the earlier preoccupation with higher Economic Growth rates.
We have to ask ourselves, more and more, who is benefitting from more economic growth? Are they Big Business or the Small Medium Businesses and the poor in the rural and Urban populations.
Furthermore, in dealing with increasing the welfare of the Poor, both rural and the new urban poor, we have to be much more multiracial in our strategies. Otherwise we can cause National Disunity rather than achieve our national aspirations of promoting greater national unity at a faster pace.
Even our Prime Minister and most Malaysians have expressed anxiety over the weak national unity. Much of the cause of some disunity is poverty. Reducing the income gaps should therefore be given greater priority under the new Government.
Social Safety Net and the Budget!
Maria Chin has proposed a deeper and wider Social Security Net to look after the poor more generously . The Minimum Wage of Rm 1,100 per month is claimed to be “hardly adequate for the poor“. This could well be a correct observation! It is suggested that there should be “liveable incomes“ or a “Living Wage“, that should be higher than the current minimum wage that was only recently revised upward.
But how much more can we afford to raise the Minimum Wage to a Living Wage?
We are now facing the challenges of a persistent Budget Deficit and a large Debt Burden.
So while some improvements can be made to the Social Safety Net – there are serious constraints to do more for the poor at this time .
The Answer to solving Poverty
The way forward is thus, to raise priority spending and to do more for the urban poor. This can be done but at the expense of slowing down the implementation of some of our major development projects and programmes. The big Government projects could be delayed and phased out over a longer period of implementation.
Also, those in the G40 Group of the poor, need to be given better education that could raise their earning capacity. That is why more Technical and Vocational Training should be introduced in schools to ensure a higher proportion of school graduates are employable. These graduates should also be “Self Employable“.
They don`t have to depend on the Government to give them jobs. The Government is not in a position to add more staff to its already large Public Service of 1.6 million employee or more!
The same arguments can also be used for raising the employability and incomes of our College and University Graduates. Many of them cannot find jobs or suitable work, because of their unsuitable training. The Lack of English proficiency also handicaps them through no fault of their own. They have become frustrated and the victims, because of faulty policies and poor implementation. All these weaknesses derived from the past, need to be rectified soon.
We need a new Red Book or a New Blue Print to fight urban Poverty!
Maria Chin and many NGO`s have highlighted the needs of the urban poor. They have also underlined the need to do more to alleviate the sufferings of the urban as well as the rural poor.
The priority has now however to be developed to do more for the urban poor The rural poor have the traditional food and shelter and basic health and other Government facilities , that have been provided over many years , to make their rural living less strained and stressful now. The urban poor often face more painful problems now!
The Government has to plan and implement new priority policies under this new Government to do much more to help the rising urban poor.
It will be useful to introduce a new Red Book or Blue Print to break the back of the sensitive Urban Poverty problems that can cause more crime and social unrest now and especially in the future.
Government has therefore to move faster to reduce Urban Poverty and civil society could supplement Government policies to do so!
Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Chairman Asli Center of Public Policy Studies.
January 17th, 2019