Partial, uneven, and uncertain: Families on the Edge report chart recovery among low income families post-MCO

UNICEF and UNFPA launch second report from its longitudinal study exploring the effects of the pandemic on women and children in low-income urban families in Malaysia

30 October 2020
Woman hiding her face eating noodles

KUALA LUMPUR, 30 October 2020 – Results from the second phase of a longitudinal study commissioned by United Nations agencies UNICEF and UNFPA show that livelihoods and wellbeing among many low-income families in Kuala Lumpur have started to recover. The study performed between the end of the MCO period and September however show that this recovery is partial, uneven and uncertain.

The report conducted in partnership with DM Analytics, a Malaysia-based public policy and research firm, led by Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid show that many low-income households remain considerably worse off than prior to the crisis. The households are in a weak position to weather further shocks and are at risk of backsliding. 

“As Malaysia continues to battle COVID-19, it is critical that we take the opportunities created by the 2021 budget and 12th Malaysia Plan to rethink social protection in Malaysia, to ensure that no family, and no child, is left behind“ said Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Representative for UNICEF in Malaysia.

The second Families on the Edge report generates continued evidence of the resilience and fortitude of many participating families. Under difficult circumstances, they have sought to re-establish their livelihoods and actively play their part in the national effort to overcome COVID-19. The report also highlights the toll that the COVID-19 crisis is imposing on mental health and family relationships

Mr Najib Assifi, the new UNFPA Representative in Malaysia  highlighted the need for urgent social protection measures in order to provide the necessary social safety nets, especially for female headed households; “with such a program in place it will provide vital interventions to protect communities, the informal sector, the elderly, disabled and children”.

The report showed that low-income female-headed households and families affected by disability are recovering at a slower rate, and remain significantly more vulnerable to future shocks, than other low-income households. The report suggests that children from low income families are at risk of dropping out of school as a result of the combined financial and psychological impacts of the crisis

The report makes several recommendations, including proposals for strengthening Malaysia’s mainstream social protection system as part of an exit strategy for COVID-19-specific policy responses.

This report is the second in a series of reports under the Families on the Edge project and 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 6 months, involves a socio-economic study, wellbeing interviews, as well as a photography and videography component. Future reports are expected to monitor the extent to which these families recover and offer critical insights for the general public and policymakers as Malaysia aims to ‘build-back-better’.



Notes to the editor:

Further findings from Families on the Edge Part 2:

  • Although unemployment among these low-income families reduced after the end of the CMCO, average income remained 10% lower than pre-COVID-19.
  • One in two families are in absolute poverty and 37% struggle to purchase adequate food for their families.
  • Some children from low income families are at risk of dropping out of school as a result of the combined financial and psychological impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Female-headed households were especially disadvantaged at the outset of the crisis, and now appear to be recovering more slowly and remain more at risk of backsliding than other households.
  • The high burden of care in female-headed households manifests itself in terms of higher rates of unemployment as well as higher rates of dependence on insecure self-employment. As a result, these families appear to be struggling more than others to meet their basic needs.
  • The report also highlights the toll that the COVID-19 crisis is imposing on mental health and family relationships in many low-income households, but among female-headed households in particular. 
  • The report confirms that the negative psychosocial impacts of the crisis have outlived the MCO, with almost 1 in 5 reporting that they feel depressed, with higher rates among female headed households.
  • Continued financial insecurity was reported as a key driver of poor mental health, with some evidence emerging of increased tensions between spouses and between carers of children in some households.
  • Many respondents are pessimistic for the future: only 17 per cent of female heads of household, and 14 per cent of heads of household with disabilities expect their financial status to be better in the next 6 months.



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About DM Analytics

DM Analytics is a boutique policy research and consulting firm based in Kuala Lumpur. We believe that effective and relevant research should be multi-dimensional and inclusive by incorporating on-the-ground realities to achieve results that really matter.

Media contacts

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UNICEF Malaysia
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United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
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