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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Help the B40 to rely less on aid

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SOCIAL media are rife with what to do to help the poor, especially the urban poor. The next Budget is round the corner and the present government has vowed to abolish Batuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) in its present form in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto. It will be replaced through a different agency and payment will be more statutory and regular.
There’s no denying that there is a serious cost of living issue faced by the bottom 40 (B40) and lower-middle class. The abolition of the Goods and Services Tax and introduction of the Sales and Service Tax (SST) did not seem to produce a domino effect of falling prices. Those who spend the bulk of their wages on daily living expenses have found prices going up. Prices of big-ticket items may have gone down slightly but it is of no help for most of the people struggling to get the same amount of daily goods and services at the same price prior to SST.
Yet there are those with dogged determination to be rid of even the BR1M alternative, to relentlessly wipe out a relic of the previous government and a welfare item used as partisan politics and enticement to vote for the then-administration. Having said that, however, BR1M did provide necessary financial aid to lots of people who really needed it.
The BR1M, like the Food Stamp programme in the United States and child benefit payment in most European countries and other regular welfare aid their governments hand out, is to help growing families and individuals cope with challenges. Food Stamp is given to over 40 million Americans while child benefit is given to all families whatever their income and up till the child reaches 16 or 18 years of age and further if the child continues in education.
Poverty is a vicious circle and those drawn into the mire of it struggle to get out of the trap. BR1M is not to deal with poverty but if this group is not given aid and as rising cost is ever constant, they may spiral down to this abyss.
The detractors of BR1M are saying that the B40 and the poor should work hard to get themselves out of their situation and not depend on or be given financial aid. Most of these B40 and the poor are in their predicament because of the very environment they are in and situations that they can’t control. They may also face mental and health challenges.
The detractors may have arrived at their conclusion that BR1M has not really improved the B40 lot despite the ever increasing amount. Perhaps this is a result of the money being given to the male head of the household. As a male myself, even I find that men are not good managers of family finances.
The money should be given to mothers. With their maternal instincts and stronger bond to the children, the money will more likely be spent on food and education.
There is also talk that with the introduction of the single RM100 monthly fare for public transport, especially the LRT/MRT in the Klang Valley, this will benefit the B40 and the urban poor. But this is limited only to the targeted group living there, not the B40 and poor outside the Klang Valley.
A better alternative would be to provide a concession card similar to the student and senior citizen card for all the B40 and poor throughout the nation. This concession card will be given to all eligible members of the family and be fairer to the nation and not just a selected area. Moreover, say, for a family of five and each needs to travel on the LRT/MRT daily, coming up with RM500 at the beginning of each month will be a struggle for most B40 families. Paying concession fares daily may do more to ease the household budget and cash flow.
The government could further help by reducing all public transport fares by 10% to 20% rather than just implement the single RM100 monthly fare in the Klang Valley. The assistance net is then cast nationwide and helps even those just missing out on BR1M and the lower-middle class.
We need to pull the B40 up to a level where they can be financially adequate and rely less on aid in the future. Let’s not deprive them and widen the gap between the haves and have-nots as this will result in a divided and dysfunctional society.
KOO WEE HON
Petaling Jaya

-Star

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