UNICEF Report Reveals The Financial Plight Of KL’s Poor

UNICEF Report Reveals The Financial Plight Of KL’s Poor

A recent UNICEF report has revealed the massive toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has left on Malaysia. According to the United Nations report, one in every two children in low-income households in Kuala Lumpur eat fewer than three meals a day. This is a result of rising inflation which has forced the capital’s poorest families to forgo food.

Despite the ongoing efforts to reverse the damage caused by the pandemic, recovery has been uneven as the weak ringgit has left families dealing with higher prices of basic foods like rice and chicken due to increased import costs.

The report stated that around 95 percent of the children from low-income households surveyed live in relative poverty, while 40 percent were part of households whose earnings place them below the poverty line, measured at RM2,816 (US$590) per month.

52 percent of children surveyed ate less than three meals a day

The survey also found 52 percent of children of all households surveyed ate fewer than three meals a day. This is a notable rise from 45 percent before the pandemic struck.

“High food prices and financial constraints serve as significant barriers for parents striving to provide balanced and healthy nutrition to their children,” the report said.

The research itself is a part of the Living on the Edge study jointly funded by UNICEF and the UN Population Fund. It surveyed around 755 families living in 16 low-cost public housing schemes across Kuala Lumpur between October and November 2023.

Households with female heads more prone to extreme poverty

The report also mentioned that 9 of 10 families said that they were struggling with the soaring living costs. Single mothers seem to face the harshest financial pressures with 59 percent of households that had female heads are faced with extreme poverty. It was also found that two-thirds of households led by individuals with a disability fell below the poverty line.

In order to cope with these pressures, heads of households have resorted to taking on extra jobs, withdrawing from their retirement savings, borrowing money from family and friends or selling personal items to make ends meet.

This was despite overall unemployment falling to 5.9 percent last October from 12 percent in March 2021 in the midst of the pandemic, and the median household income returning to the pre-Covid level of nearly 3,000 ringgit (US$632).

The rising costs has also resulted in a change of dietary habits. The report noted that 70 percent of the families surveyed spent more money on eggs as the most affordable source of protein, compared to 52 percent during the pandemic, and similarly on rice.

As such, the UN body called on the government to broaden social assistance to all poor households and not only the hardcore poor, as well as to improve on delivery of cash handout programmes, as 30 percent of families with a monthly income of RM2,000 (US$421) or less did not receive critical aid.

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