It is crucial for the government to address the issues of rising cost of living as well as relative and absolute poverty that cut across ethnic and cultural lines, stressed Mustafa K Anuar.
From the interviews conducted recently by The Malaysian Insight, we get a glimpse of the economic hardship that many Malaysians, particularly low and middle-income earners, face.
It is the kind of economic circumstance that allows them to welcome the new year only with a heavy heart, weighed down by expenses for their school-going kids.
There are schools that have decided, for instance, to change the colour of prefects’ uniforms, rendering old uniforms unable to be reused to save money.
This is apart from the fact that Malaysians are already burdened by the high cost of living in Malaysia.
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Parents in dire financial straits have to resort to holding two jobs, such as working as Grab drivers or selling cakes on the side to keep their heads above water.
In other words, the economic hardship is such that it compels parents to be extra resourceful and hardworking to stay alive.
And, imagine the challenges faced by those who were recently retrenched, including workers in the media industry. Apart from daily expenses, there are commitments already made that need to be attended to.
Similarly, vulnerable contract workers in schools that don’t have job security and are not unionised, such as cleaners and security guards, face the brunt of inflation and struggle to make ends meet.
In the meantime, most salaries stay stagnant while employers are still troubled by a proposed minimum wage.
To be sure, these people, particularly those in the bottom 40% of households, are poor or economically challenged not because – contrary to a certain curious belief – they are lazy.
There are a number of factors that cause poverty or severe economic hardship in our midst, such as poor government policy, lack of access to education and government facilities and aid, systemic corruption and unequal distribution of wealth.
Besides, many of these people, who work very hard to put food on the table, do not have political connections as certain well-heeled people do. The diligence of these hard-pressed people, who come from all ethnic and religious communities, doesn’t necessarily lead them to be rich and famous.
It is, thus, crucial for the government to address the issues of the rising cost of living as well as relative and absolute poverty that cuts across ethnic and cultural lines.
This goes to show that government assistance and affirmative action, which can be a vital lifeline, should benefit the dispossessed irrespective of ethnic and religious background, simply because poverty and economic hardship are blind to skin colour.
Which is why fighting within and between the component parties of the ruling Pakatan Harapan are an irritating distraction for the downtrodden, who are focused on trying to earn an honest living. Nor does it help for these lower-income people to be drawn by the politics of race and religion, which eventually mainly benefits the supposed champions of their communities.
The hope for a better future as promised before the last general election must be kept alive for the benefit of the lower-income group, particularly by enlightened public policies and committed politicians.