5 Types Of Poor

In 2019, the Malaysian government raised the Poverty Line Index (PLI) from RM980 to RM2,208. Now there are a total of 405,441 households living in absolute poverty [1]. We know there are still pockets of poor communities across Malaysia, we talk about the struggles of the B40 community – however, not all of the B40 households fall below the poverty line. 

Many make a decent living but are deprived of other basic needs like healthy food, water, and electricity. Yet, the B40 households still live in lack. To measure poverty based on income alone is not a fair measure. 

The United Nations Development Program’s definition of poverty recognizes that poverty cannot be measured by income alone. Instead, it takes a multidimensional approach, accounting for health, education and standard of living, including access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and quality of housing because of the foundational role each plays in allowing families and communities to lead a decent life[2].

Source: UNDP

Poverty, what causes it and how it is experienced is something specific to each person living in it. To simplify things, let’s have a look at five types of poverty – based on how (causes) people got into poverty, the issues that they face and the possibility of getting out of poverty. 

1. Absolute Poverty

Absolute poverty is when one is severely deprived of basic human needs over an extended period of time, long enough to endanger or harm your life. It is defined in the Declaration of Copenhagen as:

A condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but on access to social services.[3]

2. Relative Poverty

Relative poverty varies depending on location. Those that experience relative poverty, are simply earning below the poverty line of the society they live in. They are unable to make the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the average standard of living. Although people living in this type of poverty do not live in total (absolute) poverty, they still cannot afford the same standard of life as others in the same society. This can sometimes refer to the lack of TV, the Internet, clean clothes, decent and safe housing, and education. Despite being a less serious form of poverty, it can still be permanent.

3. Situational Poverty

This kind of poverty is caused by a sudden crisis or loss and is often temporary. It could be anything from a natural disaster to a divorce, loss of a job, or severe health problems. All of these are unpredictable events that can escalate causing them to have no material possessions or income.  

Source: Malaysia News

This type of poverty influences different people in different ways. For example, drastic situations such as a pandemic can cause a middle-income family to fall into poverty within months as a result of job loss and heavy financial commitments.  As a result of the pandemic, the ‘new poor’ category emerged. 

It is estimated that 5-8% more Malaysians will fall into poverty as a result of the pandemic. This is in addition to the 400,000 households that are already poor[4].

Situational poverty is usually addressed by the government in the form of temporary aids, help in job placement and other benefits to allow people to bounce back[5].

4. Generational Poverty

This is a result of being born into poverty or someone having experienced poverty for two generations or more. These families are also met with other forms of poverty that makes it difficult to break the poverty cycle. For example, they may be faced with a continuous lack of education. Without the right education, they will be met with a job scope that focuses on entry-level jobs, or manual labour. Both of which don’t provide much job security. People caught in the cycle of generational poverty are focused solely on surviving[6]. Families living in this cycle of poverty are constantly trying to make ends meet, ensuring that they have shelter and hoping that no illness befalls them. It is unlikely they have time or capacity to plan ahead. 

5. Urban And Rural Poverty

Source: Malaysian Trade Union Congress / Wiki Impact

Poverty can also be categorised according to the location. Those living in urban domains have a different experience of poverty compared to those living in rural areas. They are generally faced with poor quality overcrowded housing, lack of safe water supply, poor sanitation, and are much more susceptible to urban social ills. 

For those that are living in rural areas like villages, or secluded regions they are expected to have less access to services, support for disabilities and quality education opportunities on top of earning less than the national poverty line. As the majority of the focus is channelled towards the big cities, those faced with rural poverty have a rougher time escaping it. Typical lifestyles include farming and fishing. It is not uncommon for people to move to the big city in hope of escaping poverty. 

Poverty occurs worldwide, and Malaysia is no stranger to each type of poverty. As the country is fast developing, efforts are underway to help the poor and reduce the number of low-income families. We learned very recently that everyone is susceptible to poverty. Sometimes, all it takes is an unexpected pandemic or tragedy to throw everything off course. 

Poverty is a complex issue and it is also a human issue. It involves lives and for that reason, it matters. The question is, can we all help to alleviate poverty in Malaysia? Take a look at our changemakers map or get involved as a Wiki Impact volunteer.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Tan, Vincent. (2020). Malaysia has raised its poverty line by more than 100%. Where do things go from here? Channel News Asia. Link. 
  2. UNDP. (2018). Beyond income: A broader picture of poverty. Link. 
  3. United Nations. (1995). World Summit for Social Development Programme of Action – Chapter 2: Eradication of Poverty. Economic and Social Development at the United Nations. Link.
  4. CNA Insider. (2020). COVID-19 In Malaysia: Can The New Poor Cope In The Post-Pandemic Era? YouTube . Link.
  5. Vale, Richmond. (2016). Situational Poverty: Definition and Types. Richmond Vale Academy. Link.
  6. Urban Venture. Facts about Poverty. Link. 

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