As Malaysians embrace the new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hard realities will set in as more Malaysians are expected to be worse off.
Unemployment is expected to reach a record high, between 3.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent this year, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM).
The self-employed and gig economy workers, particularly those with little savings, have to make do with potentially lower incomes. If this is not adequately addressed through appropriate measures, it may lead to social unrest and an increase in the crime rate.
Hence, to create a resilient, robust society and promote national unity, the precarious nature of the affected groups must be addressed through effective public policy measures.
As Malaysia adopts a multi-dimensional approach to poverty, attention should be given to all poverty dimensions, spanning across living standards, education and health dimensions.
Even though much has been highlighted about the plight of the B40 group in recent years, as income and wealth inequalities widen, more has to be done for the well-being of society.
The Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) document highlights growing income inequalities between 1989 and 2016, including inequalities between ethnic groups. If left unchecked, widening income and wealth inequalities could spell disaster to the social fabric and national unity.
Through evidence-based policies, the plight of the poor and the lower income groups is addressed using relevant data based on the specific needs of each community in Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah and Sarawak. To achieve efficiency, customised programmes according to the needs and demographic background of the target groups should be introduced, considering the multi-dimensional nature of poverty.
Innovative solutions to eradicate poverty, such as experiments used by 2019 Nobel Laureates Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer through the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) which have been proven to be useful in generating evidences to inform policies on poverty.
The approach involves dividing any poverty issue into smaller, more manageable questions. Specific intervention examples include improving educational outcomes or child health.
These scholars demonstrated that poverty dimensions are often best addressed through carefully designed experiments among the people who are most affected.
Coordination key to efficient use of resources
As we face uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with declining resources, coordination is important to ensure effective and efficient use of resources, for example between federal and state-led initiatives.
Partnerships between all stakeholders are thus essential, involving federal and state agencies, non-governmental organisations and corporate sectors.
Proper coordination can prevent redundancies in the allocation of resources, foster closer collaborations and streamline initiatives across various agencies and players within the public sector, as well as the private and the NGO sectors.
It is envisioned that the advent of well-designed poverty eradication policies and initiatives customised to achieve specific targets would contribute immensely to national unity.
Badlishah Sham Baharin is Deputy President of IKRAM while Mohammad Abdul Hamid is a Public Policy Consultant.