Malaysiakini News

What needs to be done about New M'sia’s old underclass

Lim Teck Ghee  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The underclass:

a) the lowest social stratum in a country or community, consisting of the poor and unemployed.

b) a group of people with a lower social and economic position than any of the other classes of society.

"They are an underclass who lack any stake in popular capitalism and who are caught in the dependency culture."

COMMENT | In the euphoria and after glow of the recent election and current preoccupation with correcting the excesses and abuses of the BN government, it is all too easy to forget about or ignore the plight of the Malaysian poor and underclass groups.

Whatever is the actual poverty situation - we can expect the dispute over definition and numbers to continue endlessly - and whether we can believe the previous government’s boast that only 1% of the country’s households can be considered to be poor - the reality confronting our politicians and policy makers is that the country’s underclass (and this includes many more households than just those adjudged to be living below the poverty line) is sizeable, growing and has remained relatively intractable and unyielding to the billions of ringgit poured into the group in the last few Malaysia Plans.

Why have so many socio-economic development and poverty alleviation projects failed to make a significant dent in the plight of the underclass should be an important part of the discourse among politicians. It also needs to be a concern for all stake players engaged in forging a new Malaysia that does not replicate the missteps, mistakes and wrongly focused projects and programmes deployed by the previous government in dealing with the underclass.

Here are some suggestions on the fresh start needed in Pakatan Harapan’s development planning which can make a greater impact in tackling the multitude of obstacles and problems that stand in the way of improving the lives of the underclass.

1. Ditch or minimize approaches that reinforce rather than reduce dependency. Malaysia is not at the same development stage that it can afford the extensive social safety nets found in developed nations. Expensive subsidy programmes of any kind - and this includes the replacement for BR1M, and petrol subsidies - should be pruned back and targeted at a small number of the most vulnerable such as the elderly or female headed households. Able working age adults below a certain age - say 60 years - should not be eligible for any form of subsidy programme....

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