As Malaysia entered MCO 2.0, many low-income urban families were already close to breaking point

Families on the Edge: Part 3 reveals risk of widening disparities and need for strengthened social protection

08 February 2021
The staircase and doorway at a low cost flat in KL
UNICEFMalaysia/2017/Falah

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 February 2021 – Despite mitigating measures by the government, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact low-income urban families in Kuala Lumpur. A survey by United Nations agencies UNICEF and UNFPA undertaken in December 2020 during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) found that the socio-economic conditions for around half of the households surveyed continue to deteriorate.

“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. 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. We have extended our support to the government and look forward to working together to strengthen policies and programmes for families in need” said Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Representative for UNICEF in Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Darussalam.

The latest survey found that unemployment among heads of households doubled to 15% compared with three months earlier, and 1 in 3 adults in participating households remain unemployed. Income levels among female-headed households and households headed by persons with disabilities (PWD) are now 24% and 36% lower respectively than at the end of 2019.

The continued reduction in income experienced by a large proportion of study participants resulted in persistent poverty among this group. The poverty rate among the study sample stood at 42% in December, with higher rates among PWD-headed households (55%), and female-headed households (61%). Moreover, many households whose earnings are somewhat above the official poverty line are experiencing difficulties in meeting their basic needs.

Mr Najib Assifi, UNFPA Representative in Malaysia said, “The social dynamics of these families on the edge are changing as they do their best to cope with the worsening economic situation. With increased pessimism further exacerbating mental health issues, it begins to shape unhealthy living environments; psychologically and sometimes physically. 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 is based on a third round of data collection conducted by the Families on the Edge project in December 2020 during the CMCO, before MCO 2.0 that started on January 13th, 2021 was imposed. This update describes the socio-economic status and wellbeing of a group of 500 families with children in Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost flats.

The mixed methods study, covering a period of six months, involves a socio-economic study, wellbeing interviews, as well as a child-led photography component. The study aims to generate insights on the impact of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income families with a view to stimulate public and policy debate as Malaysia aims to mitigate the impact of the crisis and ‘build-back-better’. The fourth, and final, report will be released in April 2021.

A series of documentaries highlighting the experience of the Families on the Edge study participants will be broadcast on Astro Awani Channel 501 every evening at 8:30 p.m. from Monday, 8th February, 2021 up to Thursday, 11th February 2021, with a final screening of all episodes on Friday, 12th February 2021.

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Notes to the Editor

About UNFPA

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