10 Things We Learn About Poverty After A Year Of MCO?

MCO in Malaysia

It’s officially been one year since the pandemic broke out and Malaysians experienced the first Movement Control Order (MCO). Most of us have been affected one way or another. On the one year’s anniversary of the MCO, we want to lend our voice to the vulnerable and marginalised by sharing with you 10 things we learned about the poor and poverty since March 2020. 

MCO in Malaysia
Source: The Straits Times

#1 – There was the poor, and then, the new poor

According to the World Bank, The new poor is defined as those expected to be non-poor in 2020 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak but are now expected to be poor in 2020. There is an expected 800,000 who will fall into this category if no aid is given [1]. This is in addition to the 400,000 households that are already poor [1].

#2 – The pandemic hit the poorest the hardest

Those who were already vulnerable and struggling had it the hardest. Sabah, the poorest state in Malaysia and known as a tourism magnet pre-pandemic, is now facing surging levels of poverty, currently at 19.5% as compared to the national poverty rate at 5.6%[2].

#3 – One Suicide A Day During MCO

According to Bukit Aman, there has been about one suicide case daily due to financial difficulties, family problems and marriage break down stemming from the pandemic [3]. The majority of those who committed suicide were mostly aged between 19 and 40 years old. This crisis demanded greater awareness and intervention on mental health issues. 

Depression can happen to anyone at any time. Source: New Straits Times

#4 – Depression hits the poor the hardest

Based on a report by UNICEF Malaysia [4], one in five head of households of urban poor in Kuala Lumpur describes themselves as depressed or experiencing extremely unstable emotions during the period of the Movement Control Order (MCO) [5]. This number is higher for head of households led by females. 1 out of 3 female head of households reports that the main worry that has been on their mind is having insufficient money to feed their children [4].

#5 – Female led households face greater stress

While UNICEF representatives suggested that some families were on the road to recovery, others continued to deteriorate. With the lockdown continuing in early 2021, the air of uncertainty remains[4]

#6 – Unemployment hits an all time high

In May 2020, Malaysia hit a 27-year high when unemployment rose to 5.3% from an average of 3% pre-Covid [6]. This number had a modest recovery of 4.9% in January 2021 which is still a high number. This problem is exacerbated by the increasing number of graduates during the pandemic who will be entering the labour force. The government is making effort towards aid and job creation amongst those affected through aids and upskilling, but the question remains – is this enough?

Source: HRM Asia

#7 – Going Great Lengths To Get Connected

With online learning coming to the forefront due to the crisis, we begin to hear stories of students going to lengths to study and sit for their exams online. They climb trees, travel through oil palm plantations, hike through a jungle and cross bridges just to get a decent connection for their studies [7]. This problem affects the rural areas throughout Malaysia, where connectivity and bandwidth are poor coupled with the constant changes of school reopening sessions.

#8 – Importance of Financial Aid

Providing consistent financial aid straight to the hands of the poor is necessary to help them survive day to day. Between March 2020 till February 2021, the government of Malaysia has allocated more than RM280 billion (RM230b for Prihatin, RM35b for PENJANA, RM15b for PERMAI) of funding towards financial aid and stimulating the economy again [8].

Many changemakers and NGOs have risen to the occasion to organise sending provisions, essentials, digital devices and money to the poor and needy. Amongst them are:

  • Hunger Hurts – distributing food, masks, laptops across Shah Alam, Seremban, Ipoh and Sabah
  • Uncle Kentang – organises ambulance and general food aid in Klang Valley and larger areas of it
  • Food Not Bombs Ipoh – food distribution to the homeless in Ipoh
  • Adrian Edy – providing aid to those in need in Kota Kinabalu and Sabah
  • MUDA – 1 Keluarga 1 Laptop Initiative
  • Borneo Komrad – helping especially the stateless in Sabah
  • For more of these changemakers, head to our changemakers map

The Caremongering (Community Response to Covid-19) Facebook Page has also been utilised to organise and coordinate efforts amongst individuals and organisations on the ground. This speeds up the process of ensuring aid arrives into the hands to those that need it.

#9 – Giving those in need a “hand-up”

Whilst financial aid is important, sustainability is key. The impacts of the pandemic will be long lasting and the poor need a hand up to get them back on their feet. We have seen numerous NGOs and government agencies providing upskilling courses for free to those who have been affected by the pandemic. Here are some ‘hand up’ programs that is available:

E-learning Upskilling programmes are becoming more popular. Source: Malay Mail
  • MDEC upskilling programs
  • Women of Will – empowering women to initiate and sustain their own small businesses
  • Ibuprenuer – impacting the lives of financially dependent and vulnerable mothers by uplifting their skills and talents to the community to be micro-entrepreneurs

#10 – Resilience is key to survival

We are certain many heroes will come out of this pandemic. Those who fought to survive – found ways to pivot, thought of ways to earn extra income or get an education or sought help for mental health. Those who cared and have some to give – they rallied communities, friends and family to give or their time, money, resources.

Think about Saraswathy – a single mum living in a PPR flat in KL, managing four children who need to study online – as well as an online baking business [9]. What about Irwan – who juggles five jobs just to make ends meet and care for his mum who has been struck by illness [10]. Everyone is going all out to make ends meet, focused on surviving this pandemic.


With the vaccine and recovery plans in place for 2021, there is seemingly light at the end of the tunnel. To all Malaysians, stay safe, look out for each other, do something nice for someone today – #kitajagakita

Explore our sources:

  1. Wiki Impact. (2020). 7 Facts about the pandemic and its impact on poverty in Malaysia. Link. 
  2. The Standard. (2020). Up to 2.4m Malaysians facing poverty, thousands in poorest state Sabah in peril. Link.
  3. Suicides
  4. Unicef. (2020). Families on the Edge: Issue 2: Status of the households post-MCO. Link
  5. Wiki Impact. (2020). Depression During Covid Hits the Poor Harder. Link. 
  6. S. A. Shah. (2021). Malaysia’s Unemployment Rate Reached 27-year high. Link. 
  7. Wiki Impact. (2020). Courageous Students Go To Great Lengths To Stay Connected and Be Educated. Link. 
  8. Prime Minister’s Office. (2021). Budget 2021. Link. 
  9. Wiki Impact. (2020). Meet Saraswathy. Single Mom Who Bakes To Bring Up Four Kids. Link. 
  10. Wiki Impact. (2020). Meet Irwan. He Juggles 5 Jobs to Stay Afloat. Link.

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