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20 Facts We Learned About Poverty In Malaysia In 2020

facts about poverty 2020

The year 2020 has been a shocker to most. Even for the best of planners, 2020 has been filled with many unexpected events largely due to the pandemic that swept across the globe earlier in the year. 

It’s easy to blanket 2020 and mark it as the worst year yet. In fact, some are still trying to pull through this year while licking up wounds from months past. Yet, in all things a silver lining will soon emerge. 

Wiki Impact was born in the middle of the pandemic. While hunkered down, we realised that the digital space needed an injection of evidence-based stories that would help shape a better narrative of poverty in Malaysia. We had a gut feel that there are people who want to do good but don’t know where to start. We also knew deep down that there is a change maker in all of us. The light just needed to be switched on. 

It is a humbling process to research, story-tell and visualise poverty and the poor in Malaysia – especially in 2020. The data and stories are palpable. Yet, on the same note, it has been incredibly inspiring to speak with people who are genuinely hustling to survive, passionately pursuing an education even if it means climbing a tree to get an internet, and those who care enough to feed the homeless even though they don’t have an overflowing abundance.

To this end, as we wrap up 2020 and welcome in 2021, we know for sure that there is always good in all situations. Even if the good is not immediately apparent, it will soon show up. 

Here’s our list of 20 facts we learned about poverty in Malaysia in 2020. It’s a mix of good, bad, ugly, revealing and shocking facts, learnings and stories. Tell us what you feel after you’ve gone through the list. There must be a reason why you’ve read until this far… 

#1: Created by Covid-19: The New Poor

Source: New Straits Times

The ‘New Poor’ is a group who were expected to be non-poor in 2020 but are now expected to be poor in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

#2: Unemployment Is On A Record High

Source: CNBC

In May 2020, Malaysia hit a 27-year high when unemployment rose to 5.3%.

#3: Women In Poverty Are Struggling Silently With Period Poverty

Source: Shropshire Star

If you can’t afford to buy food, it is likely that you won’t have enough to buy essential sanitary items needed for the menstrual cycle. It’s hard to believe, but some Malaysian women are still suffering silently. It’s time to talk about period poverty

#4: Addictions Can Be Lethal To The Poor – Especially When It Involves Drugs 

Source: MIMS Today

Did you know that a total of 300,00 adults in Malaysia have used drugs at least once in their lifetime? Currently 100,000 Malaysian adults are still using drugs and the poor are most vulnerable to drug abuse. It’s recorded that the highest prevalence of drug abuse are male, from rural areas and earning a low income. 

#5: It’s A Tough Life Living In The City And Being Poor

Source: Reuters

Urbanisation is happening and moving swiftly. To survive in the city, the poor have to work harder but they may not be earning more for the hours and effort put in. One in three urban poor households earn less than RM2,000 a month. Many of them have to settle for semi-skilled or hard labour jobs because competition is stiff and they lack the qualifications needed for white-collar jobs. One in three households don’t have financial safety nets making them vulnerable to economic shocks.

#6: Poverty Is A Key Driver Towards Child Marriages

Source: The Star (2018). Child Marriage Is No Happily Ever After.

The World Bank identified that globally, girls with poorer economic backgrounds were more likely to marry early. Those faced with economic difficulties find that marrying their child off as one burden lifted;  one less mouth to feed. 

#7: Malaysia’s B40 Spends Approximately RM600 On Food Per Month

Source: Unsplash

This works out to RM20 per day, per household.

#8: Depression Hits The Poor The Hardest

Source: Unsplash

One in five head of households describe themselves as depressed or experiencing extremely unstable emotions during the period of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

#9: Depression Affects Female Led Household Even Greater

Source: Unsplash

3 in 10 households headed by females are experiencing new negative behaviours that have previously not been observed prior to the lockdown.

#10: Lower-income groups were more likely to experience bullying in the workplace.

bullying at workplace
Source: Financial Times

Employees from the lowest income groups, earning less than RM3,999 monthly were the most likely to be bullied and face psychological damage. They are under more pressure to perform, and less likely to take sick leave.

#11: Children From Poor Families are More Likely to Drop Out of School

Orang Asli Malaysia - Wiki impact

A shocking 85% of school dropouts come from poor families, in the lesser developed states of Malaysia. 

#12: Majority of Poor Students Are Not Able to Keep Up with the New Norm of E-Learning

Source: World of Buzz

Students did not have their own digital devices and they had to share with one or more members of the family. In fact, a lot of children were attending classes, doing assignments and taking exams, with just their mobile phones. 

#13: It’s Scary! There Are Many Rural Schools That Are Categorised As Life-Threatening

Source: The Star

In Malaysia, there are hundreds of schools that are classified as non-functional, lacking facilities and hazardous that they have been called ‘life-threatening’. In Sabah there were 589 schools and Sarawak 1020 that were categorised as dilapidated.

#14: Poverty Can Cause Physical Illness

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol level are the highest among the lower-income groups. All three of these medical conditions contribute to future heart conditions. 

#15: Not All Malaysians Have Access to Clean Water

Source: Global Peace Foundation

53% of Orang Asli communities do not have access to piped water. Many still walk miles to fetch water from deep wells and dirty puddles, ponds, and holes in the ground. 

#16: There Is A Panadol Problem Among The Poor

Source : Yahoo News

Those earning less than RM5000 monthly household income, were more likely to purchase over the counter medicine. They were also less likely to understand the long term impacts of using OTC medicine. 

#17: The Nation’s Digital Divide Is Causing Education Disparity Among Rural And Urban Students

Source: World of Buzz

A divide based on accessibility, resources and even quality of education results in a performance disparity between urban and rural schools. What a Sabahan student has to go through to obtain an education is very different from that of a student studying in Putrajaya.  

#18: Malaysia’s Youth Are Working Hard To Get Their Education

Source: Mashable SEA

Those living in rural or low income Malaysia have faced endless problems with e-learning. From high profile cases like Veveonah, to 20 year old NurLieda Khaleeda, Malaysia’s youth refuse to stay idle and have come up with countless solutions to obtain their education. Some even experienced injury trying to sit for their online classes.

#19: If Punks Can Do Good, Anyone Can Too!

Source: Food Not Bombs Ipoh Personal Archives

Doing good is often relegated to those working with NGOs, charities and foundations – but we learned that there is a changemaker in all of us. Most of us want to help but don’t know where to start or don’t know where the actual need is. Learn from these punks that all it takes is good intention and some cooking skills. If they can do it, we all can! Find out who are the do-gooders in your region. 

And a final and important point to note is that…

#20: Poverty Is Not Permanent. It Can Be Broken

rosli sareya UMS PhD
Source: Dr Rosli’s Personal Archive

They are ordinary people with incredible resilience and a sense of awareness that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, save the seeds and plant it to grow and orchard. Their past did not determine their future. Through the stories of Paulina Henry, the girl who was so poor she couldn’t afford shoes to now a successful director in Kuala Lumpur and Dr. Rosli Sareya, the son of a security guard to now, a professor in University Sabah Malaysia – we know that poverty is momentary and with a boost from external forces, people can climb out of it. 

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