November 4, 2020 9:45 AM
PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya has been urged to provide additional forms of social protection to single mothers and disabled persons in low-income areas following a study showing they are the slowest to recover from the movement control order (MCO) because many of them cannot get government aid.

According to a recent Unicef report, income in general was inching towards 2019 levels in the areas the agency surveyed but women and the disabled were still making far less money than they used to.

The two groups were also the most likely to be without any kind of savings, the report said.

A spokesman for the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) told FMT single mothers in low-income areas faced unique challenges that the government needed to address.

“We encounter many women who have been left by their husbands,” she said. “However, they are still legally married.”

She noted that the government recognised only divorced and widowed women as single mothers and called for less rigidity in determining eligibility for aid.

The AWAM spokesman said the government must find ways to widely advertise benefits provided by EPF and Socso and similar programmes to ensure adequate uptake.

She also said the self-employed needed improved access to social protection.

V Murugeswaran, president of the Damai Disabled Persons Association, said job losses had been particularly painful for people with disabilities.

“For a disabled person to be employed at all, he would have gone through a very long process,” he told FMT. “If he gets retrenched, it is an uphill task to find another job.”

He said Putrajaya needed to give companies incentives to hire disabled workers looking for formal employment, saying cash injections were only a short-term solution.

He urged the government to also look into providing grants to help the disabled go into business and to extend EPF and Socso benefits to those choosing self-employment.

Economist Barjoyai Bardai of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia commended Putrajaya for its efforts to help the poor but said a larger investment would be needed heading into 2021.

“The government needs to take care of these people for another 12 months,” he said. “It would need around RM40 billion just to maintain the same things it is doing now, but even then it is not enough.

“Perhaps it needs to budget for even more, something like RM60 billion to RM70 billion, to really make a difference because these groups really need help.”

He said that while wider EPF coverage would be helpful in distributing government aid, a more targeted approach could be more effective and he proposed the introduction of food stamps.