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The Reality Of Urban Poor Senior Citizens Living In Kuala Lumpur

Recently, there have been newspaper headlines and heated debates in parliament regarding the new development project in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. The project would tear down the homes of over 300 elderly families, replacing them with shiny new buildings. The elderly in return will receive a one-off compensation of RM200,000[1]

According to 63-year-old Zalaha Yusof, she “was offered only about RM200,000 to get out of the house. She and her family have lived in the low-cost flats for 55 years and the home was given to her by her parents. 

Although our house is small, this location is very strategic because it is close to the hospital and so on. If we have to move out, we will never get a location like this again. – Zalaha Yusof, senior citizen[1]

At an age where the senior citizens should be protected by the nation they have lived in and helped build – some are evicted from their own homes. In the case of Zalaha, she was offered compensation that will not be able to sustain her living expenses or even purchase a shelter of the same kind[1]

Source: FreeMalaysiaToday

The number of senior citizens is on the rise annually. At the rate we are going presently, individuals aged 65 and above are projected to double by 14 per cent by 2044 (making Malaysia an aged nation). By 2056, we will be classified as a ‘super-aged’ nation with the rate of aged individuals doubling by 20% [2].

The elderly are most vulnerable to changing circumstances affecting their livelihood. Kuala Lumpur recorded the highest population density with 7,188 people per square kilometre, which increases the risk of our elderly being neglected with rising poverty figures[3].

While there are no specific numbers of the B40 elderly community, the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), recorded 2.7 million households in the B40 community, 56% from urban and 44% in rural areas[4].

Social Protection And Savings

As the government allowed access to Employee Provided Funds (EPF), many among the elderly and underprivileged have used this advantage to aid the large hole that Covid-19 has left in their pockets. Many have used their life savings as emergency funds.

Unfortunately, many who were supposed to enjoy retirement by age 55-years old and above are struggling to replenish these lost funds as the Basic Savings threshold is RM 240,000[5]. This has introduced a debate of extending the retiring age for Malaysians while considering factors of health and performance [6]

Increasing the retirement (and re-employment) age would enhance the self-sufficiency and sustainability of seniors in terms of financial independence and purchasing power. – Jason Loh Seong Wei, Head of social, law and human rights, EMIR Research[6]

Money Is Still A Serious Matter After Retirement

Source: The Star

Income thresholds differ according to states and generalising the hardships of B40 communities become cloudy. According to the DOSM, Kuala Lumpur’s mean income declined by 11.5% in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 impact[3].

In Kuala Lumpur, the income expectancy is much higher which leaves the elderly competing with soaring living expenses. In comparison with the low minimum wage of RM1200 per month, price hikes of goods and daily expenses, the older age groups have to make compromises for their essentials [7].

Source: imoney

Although Malaysia’s public healthcare is affordable where Malaysians are charged RM1 at government clinics or hospitals for visits and diagnosis, there’s still so much that society fails to consider[8]. The older age group with underlying health complications and chronic illnesses require prolonged treatment and medication, which is more than they can afford especially with insufficient retirement funds. Malaysia’s healthcare department must introduce a functional system for the elderly that is sustainable and affordable[9].

Poor Transport Accessibilities

Source: Free Malaysia Today

What is considered a minor issue for many, is actually a burden for the elderly community. Public transportation systems do not accommodate the elderly population and need upgrading in aspects of human control and train mechanics.

In May this year, two LRTs collided resulting from human error, which left dozens hospitalised and over 40 people critically injured, including a 52- year-old elderly who underwent spinal surgery[10].

The schedules of Rapid buses should be aligned with MRT feeder buses. This is crucial as the older population in the Klang Valley still rely on buses, even though 80% of residents own vehicles. Many senior citizens resort to a safer choice that is their mode of transportation [11].

Conditions of public pavements and roads that are run down pose a threat for the senior citizens who have to walk to get around. In residential areas, cars are lined on both sides of the streets limiting safe pathways for people to walk on. Poor walking paths and cars are barriers and a hazard for the elderly using wheelchairs and walking crutches[12].

They Still Have More To Give

Getting older isn’t a bad thing because age is just a number. The Malaysia Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) points out that the notion of ageism should not exist. Instead, society should strive to ensure the elderly are included with continuous opportunities at hand. 

With age comes wisdom and knowledge to be imparted, many employers can take advantage of infusing or blending the workload among employees despite age differences.

When you withdraw people from working, it will lead them into having psychological issues like depression and loneliness. – Nathan Vytialingam, Advisor at Malaysia Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS)[13]

Source: Free Malaysia Today

For example, 57-year-old P. Devika who falls into the old age category herself isn’t hindered by what she cannot do and has been an aid to the elderly from a young age. She sacrificed seeing her family on Deepavali and came to the rescue of a 76-year-old partially paralysed woman from rising floodwaters[14].

Devika works as a maid, which is a job that doesn’t pay much by itself. And et, she shows up whenever she can. In a society that’s well off, the government and employers could all learn a thing or two from her.

Even before I was married, I have always been helping the elderly – no matter if they are Malay, Chinese or Indian. I would go to their homes to help them eat, bathe and dress their wounds. – P. Devika, senior citizen[14]

How Can Malaysia Take A Step Forward?

Malaysia Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) president Shahrul Bahyah Kamaruzzaman calls for government sectors and NGOs to join forces to enforce the rights and aids of the elderly in sectors such as finance and healthcare in sustainable ways. 

At present, 10 programmes are available for senior citizens with approximate spending of RM1billion. However, these programmes come with certain criteria to ensure eligibility[15]. These aids could benefit the expected rising number of senior citizens in the country by 2030[16]

In 2019, a proposed bill was suggested by the government to protect the community rights of senior citizens. Where is that bill today? As Malaysians, we hold the responsibility to speak up and hold government bodies accountable for serving the elderly. 

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president Mohideen Abdul Kader points out that these existing problems faced by the elderly have been festering too long, and that “the government has less than a decade to solve these problems”[12].

The plight of the ageing population in the country calls for more recognition. Here are some of the organisations helping the B40 elderly communities :

Grace Community Services (GCS) was incorporated in 1990 under the Companies Act 1965 (197056-M) to better administer the fast-expanding spectrum of social works founded by Dr Henry K Pillai. These included homes for the destitute and orphaned and abused children as well as a centre for men with alcohol and substance abuse. A shelter for women with unplanned pregnancies, street feeding and a food bank were later established to meet the urgent needs of the community.

RumahKasih offers free shelter, food and medical treatment for the discharged poor, homeless, old and terminally ill abandoned patients. Here, we have diabetics without limbs, cancer patients disowned by their children, mentally-challenged people whose families could not be traced, paralytic patients and accident victims, old people who have simply outlived their usefulness. Too old, sick or handicapped to work.

The Lost Food Project is a not-for-profit organisation rescuing lost food and giving it to those in need.  (TLFP) has grown from a handful of volunteers collecting boxes of surplus groceries to an established operation, providing thousands upon thousands of vulnerable persons with nutritious food and addressing needless waste in the food industry.

The Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) is a non-profit-organisation dedicated to educating physicians, scientists and members of the public on numerous healthy ageing issues. MHAS believes that disabilities associated with normal ageing are caused by treatable physiological dysfunction.

Caremongering is a community response to help those affected by Covid-19. This group of helpers emphasise local communities and involve purchasing groceries and checking on the elderly, donating blood, and supporting local NGOs.

Explore our sources:

  1. World of Buzz. (2021). Residents Upset as They’re Offered RM200k for Prime KL Land, Some Worth RM3.1 Million. Link. 
  2. N.Mansor. (2021). ‘Super-aged’ Malaysia by 2056: What we need to do. New Straits Times. Link
  3. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Demographic Statistics First Quarter 2021, Malaysia. Link.
  4. BMC Public Health. (2019). Health, access and nutritional issues among low-income population in Malaysia. Link.
  5. Wiki Impact. (2021). Post-MCO: 3.6 Million EPF Contributors Have Less Than RM 1,000 In Their Account. Link.
  6. The Star. (2021). Working longer in old age for survival. Link. 
  7. The Malaysian Reserve. (2021).  Data shows the average cost of living in KL is RM3,300 monthly. Link.
  8. Imoney. (2017). Treatments You Can Get For As Low As RM1 At Malaysian Government Hospitals. Link.
  9. National Library of Medicine. (2000). The Problems and Challenges of the Aging Population of Malaysia. Link.
  10. The Star. (2021). Wee: Critically injured victims in LRT collision recovering well. Link.
  11. Free Malaysia Today. (2021). Focus on maintenance while upgrading public transport. Link.
  12. New Straits Times. (2021). CAP outlines issues affecting Malaysia’s elderly, calls for drafting of bill. Link. 
  13. Free Malaysia Today. (2021). The elderly can still contribute a lot to society. Link.
  14. Free Malaysia Today. (2021). Helping elderly comes first, says woman who skipped Deepavali trip. Link.  
  15. Wiki Impact. (2021). 12 Things Malaysians Should Know About Social Protection. Link.
  16. Free Malaysia Today. (2021). Govt and NGOs must come together to support elderly, says group. Link.

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