Snakes and ladders: navigating uncertainty in the new normal

Families on the Edge: Part 4 reveals need for sustained and reliable support for low-income families to deliver an inclusive recovery from COVID-19

10 May 2021
snakes and ladders
Urban Zone / Alamy Stock Photo

PUTRAJAYA, 11 MAY 2021 – Fourth and final edition of Families on the Edge launched today by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department for Economic Affairs, YB Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed.

The latest survey conducted in February 2021 found that median household income among participant families had recovered to 95% of the pre-crisis level. Families on the Edge Part 4 further enhances our understanding of situation of low-income urban families following almost an entire year of hardship and uncertainty.

“We are delighted to see that socio-economic indicators had nearly returned to pre-crisis levels for many families, but this is not true for all. The real impact of a year of hardship and uncertainty is now apparent in terms of the mental wellbeing of women and children, with significant implications for children’s learning among other issues. Over 6 in 10 of the parents surveyed called for advice on how to best support their children through this period and we need to take that very seriously.” said Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, Representative for UNICEF in Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Darussalam.

A range of government policies and interventions, such as the Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat (BPR) and EduTV amongst others, are shown to have made a critical contribution to cushioning the effects of crisis on these families. However, more than half of households remain unable to meet essential expenses: 6 in 10 were unable to purchase enough food for their families while roughly 1 in 3 reported difficulties in providing enough money for their children to buy meals once they returned to school.

Speaking on behalf of Mr Kwabena Asante-Ntiamoah, UNFPA Malaysia Representative, Ms. Jayamalar Samuel, UNFPA Assistant Representative in Malaysia said, “The Families on the Edge report has provided a data driven perspective on the lack of social protection available for the urban poor – it is not only their economic situation which makes them vulnerable, it is also a lack of access and exposure to systematic protection. When it comes to the female headed households surveyed, the report continues to show that they lag behind when it comes income parity, childcare, employment and access to opportunities. Female-headed households have a high unemployment rate of 16%, which is roughly three times higher than the national average, meanwhile unemployment among male heads of households has fallen since December 2020. Ensuring a more gender sensitive lens when it comes to policy planning and social protection mechanisms will ensure that women will not continue to struggle in a quagmire of economic inequity but instead be able to rise and lead their families towards brighter possibilities.”

Although there are some signs of improvement in mental wellbeing since December 2020, almost half of the parents believed that their children’s mental state has been affected by COVID-19 while 6 in 10 report that their children have lost interest in studying. Around two thirds of parents reported that they need parenting advice to deal with these challenges effectively.

Finally, this final survey found a high level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among this group, with only 6 in 10 being willing to be vaccinated. Failure to address vaccine hesitancy among low-income communities offers the concerning prospect of persistent pockets of vaccine transmission coinciding with pockets of poverty, with the two phenomena potentially reinforcing one another.

The fourth and final report in the Families on the Edge series is based on data collection conducted by the project team in February and March 2021. 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 over 10 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’.



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