According to the former United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, the previous governmental commitment to revise the national poverty line of Malaysia appears to have backtracked.
On Monday, July 6th, Alston released a report that stated the national poverty rate of just 0.4% – the lowest in the world – was “misleadingly low and unrealistic” based on a visit he made to Malaysia in August 2019.
The previous government had committed to revising the national poverty line, the new government’s response to Alston’s final report puts that commitment into doubt, according to a statement made by Alston saying that it “stands by the absolute poverty rate”.
Setting the national poverty line at RM980 per month per household of four, would mean that each person is surviving on RM8 per day.
“The government’s reversal is deeply concerning because the current line is inadequate and almost universally considered to be misleadingly low,” Alston said.
“The insistence that the line is ‘derived from internationally accepted standards’ is a smokescreen and ignores the blatant mismatch between reality and statistics,” he said.
Alston made a visit to Malaysia from Aug 13th to 23rd 2019, and travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sarawak, Sabah, and Kelantan.
His travels included meeting up with state and Federal government officials, international agencies, civil society, academics, and people affected by poverty in urban and rural areas.
Alston elaborates that “Malaysia has made impressive progress against poverty in the past forty years, but its continued use of an outdated and unrealistic poverty line obscures the troubling reality that millions scrape by on very low incomes, a situation only made worse by Covid-19.”
According to Alston, revising the poverty line is just the first step if the government wants to end poverty.
“Progress will require a better understanding of the nature of poverty, especially in urban areas, improved social policies, and a new approach towards long-neglected populations that face higher rates of poverty.”
“Millions of non-citizens are disproportionately affected by poverty, including migrants, refugees, stateless people and unregistered Malaysians, who are systematically excluded from official poverty figures, neglected by policymakers and often effectively barred from basic services.”
“Migrant workers make up a sizeable part of the overall population and have been central to the country’s economic success. Yet they have deliberately been left in a regulatory grey zone that facilitates sometimes scandalous abuses and generally poor conditions,” he said.
Malaysian indigenous people continue to face discrimination and have far higher rates of poverty than the general population according to Alston. They are also excluded from social support, appropriation of their land, and experience widespread violations of their rights.
Malaysian women on the other hand, handle a share of housework that is disproportionate, have a low rate of workforce participation, are paid less than their male counterparts and usually remain in lower-level jobs.
Widespread discrimination is endured by people with disabilities, along with obstacles that prevent them from participating in society on an equal footing with others. Alston explains “The government should institute far-reaching reforms of the fractured and patchy social protection system to ensure that the needs of people living in poverty are comprehensively addressed, with a social protection floor for all.”
“Covid-19 has demonstrated that anyone can lose a job through no fault of their own, and reinforced the absolute necessity of strong support programs,” says Alston.
The fact that key poverty-related data is often inaccessible or even non-existent, makes poverty reduction more difficult, often leaving policymakers and researchers to work in the dark.
“The government has a real opportunity to become a true champion of poverty reduction by improving the lives of many facing hardship, providing those in poverty with the support they need and ensuring that the country’s economic growth is truly inclusive and benefits the entire population,” says Alston.
6th July 20:20
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