October 30, 2020 11:36 AM
PETALING JAYA: Unicef has found that while low-income families are beginning to show some signs of financial recovery, the situation still remains bleak, with households headed by women and the disabled seeing slower improvement.
Unicef said this in its latest report called “Families on the Edge”, which is based on a survey of 3,000 residents of low-cost housing flats in the Klang Valley.
While it found that overall median household income in poorer communities had slowly approached near-2019 levels, families with a female or disabled head of household (HoH) still had 9% and 24% less income respectively compared with last year.
This is largely down to the large number of respondents who reported a drop in income between May and September, with two thirds of female HoHs reporting they were still making less, and half the disabled HoHs saying the same.
More than 40% of the households surveyed reported total monthly income under RM2,000, an improvement over the 54% of households recorded in May, which indicates that household performance is improving.
However, rates of absolute poverty (whereby a household lacks sufficient resources to afford basic necessities like food and shelter) were up across the board compared with last year, with the study finding that half of the households surveyed had fallen into this category, a rate 6% higher than in 2019.
The picture is bleaker when using relative poverty as a metric, with all households led by a disabled HoH now falling beneath the relative poverty line (set at 50% of the KL median income of RM2,987). Up to 96% of female-led households fared the same, which equalled findings from 2019.
Due to these factors, many families were forced to live off their savings, with 68% of all households surveyed responding that they now had none. For disabled-led households, this figure was 93% and for women it was 71%.
It was found that 45% of respondents did not have an EPF or Socso account, which left them even more vulnerable to financial instability as they were without backup savings or the means to claim extra assistance.
Seven out of 10 HoH reported they were struggling to afford basic expenses, with sufficient food and bills being the two biggest problems among those surveyed.
While the report indicates that recovery has already begun, this is not the sentiment on the ground. Only 14% of respondents said they expected their financial situation to improve in the next six months, with the rest predicting things will either get worse or stagnate.