KUALA LUMPUR: Whenever the cost of living rises, the bottom 40 per cent of income earners (B40), whose monthly household income fall below RM3,860, become the first to feel the pinch of hardship.
While initiatives outlined in Budget 2019 aimed at easing the cost of living for the B40 have received positive feedback from the public, it is hoped that the government will take the necessary measures to ensure that the proposed subsidies benefit the targeted groups.
Shazlina Shahidan, 41, a member of Rela (Jabatan Sukarelawan Malaysia or Volunteers Department of Malaysia), urged the government to monitor the implementation of the initiatives targeted at the B40 group and screen the recipients as well to ensure that only the deserving ones get them.
“The government is indeed trying to help people like us who are in the B40 group but it should make sure that only the deserving people benefit. For example, in the flats where I live, I’ve seen some people driving luxury cars, which is strange as people like us can’t afford such things,” she told Bernama.
The government should conduct a census and go from house to house to collect information about every family, she said, adding that this might be a more effective way to identify B40 families. Shazlina, who has four children aged between 15 and 22, resides at the low-cost flats at the Batu Muda People’s Housing Project in Jalan Ipoh, here.
Need more clarification
When unveiling Budget 2019 at the Dewan Rakyat last Friday, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced, among other things, various measures to ease the cost of living for the B40 group.
He said a Cost of Living Aid or ‘Bantuan Sara Hidup’ (BSH) of RM500 to RM1,000 would be given to households earning between RM2,000 and RM4,000 a month.
He also announced an additional BSH of RM120 per child for up to four children aged 18 and below, as well as for children with disabilities with no age restriction imposed.
Other measures include increasing the household electricity subsidy from RM20 and below to RM40 and below, and the RM100 30-day unlimited Rapid bus and rail pass effective Jan 1 next year.
On the much-awaited fuel subsidy, Lim announced the introduction of a targeted petrol subsidy for owners of cars with a capacity of 1,500cc and below and motorcycles of 125cc and below.
Through this mechanism, the government will provide a petrol subsidy of 30 sen a litre for RON95 petrol.
However, the subsidy is limited to 100 litres a month for cars and for motorcycles, 40 litres a month.
A total of RM2 billion has been allocated for the targeted fuel subsidy, which is set to be implemented in the second quarter of 2019.
It is expected to benefit as many as four million car owners and 2.6 million motorcycle owners.
People like Shazlina who are in the lower-income bracket, however, need more clarification on the targeted subsidy concept, as well as how to go about applying for the subsidies concerned.
“We’re ordinary people. Sometimes we hear about some aid or other but don’t know how to apply for it. It will be good if the government can provide clarification through various channels so that we don’t miss out,” she said, adding that if all subsidies went to the right hands, there was a chance for B40 households to improve their standard of living.
Ease the burden
Fara Nadila Mo’min, 28, a private-sector worker, said although she was a little disappointed that the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) programme has been scrapped, she was, however, thankful that the government has introduced the targeted fuel subsidy as it would help to ease the financial burden of B40 households like hers.
“My work requires me to go around the Klang Valley to meet clients. The fuel subsidy will at least help to reduce my costs,” she said.
Fara Nadila also welcomed the government’s move to raise the minimum wage to RM1,100 beginning Jan 1, 2019.
“Since many people are finding it challenging to cope with the rising cost of living, I hope all companies and agencies will adhere to the new (minimum wage) ruling,” she added.
Housewife Nur Hasmila Hassan, 48, said although she lived in Kemaman, Terengganu, her family was also affected by the spiralling cost of living.
Happy that Budget 2019 is focused on helping the B40 group, the mother-of-four said the subsidies and benefits would enable her children to pursue their studies up to the tertiary level.
Her two older children are currently studying at institutions of higher learning while her two younger children are still at school.
“The cost of living is so high these days that it is suffocating us. I felt relieved when I heard about the BSH, targeted fuel subsidy and electricity subsidy (in Budget 2019),” she said, adding that she also hoped the government would consider increasing the loan amounts given out under the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) as it would help to reduce the financial burden of parents in the B40 group.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA) deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman, meanwhile, said the targeted petrol subsidy was not only more rational but would also help the government to reduce the quantum of subsidies currently being given out.
“People in the high-income group who own high-powered luxury cars are the biggest fuel users.
“The low-income earners, on the other hand, mostly use public transport or motorcycles. Even if they own cars, it would be 1,300cc models,” he said, adding that the government could consider introducing a designated card system for the targeted groups for the purpose of implementing the fuel subsidy.
He said should the government want to extend its subsidy programme to food, it could create a cashless mechanism to allow the targeted groups to use coupons or their MyKad (Malaysian national identity card) to buy food at subsidised rates from certain premises.
Pointing to MyKasih Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides all kinds of aid to the less fortunate, Mohd Yusof said it uses MyKad to enable people registered with the organisation to procure RM80 worth of groceries per month at selected retail outlets.
MyKasih implements various food and education programmes that are aimed at low-income families regardless of race and religion.
One of its programmes enables students to use their MyKad to buy food at their school canteen or buy books and stationery from their school bookshop.
From B40 to M40
Believing that continuous efforts should be made to improve the living standards of the B40 group in order to elevate them to the middle 40 percent of income earners category (M40), Mohd Yusof said the government should also consider introducing initiatives to open up business opportunities for them or help them to expand their current businesses.
To avoid duplication of assistance programmes targeted at the poor, he called for the setting up of a coordinating body to ensure the optimal utilisation of all forms of aid.
Commenting on the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry’s new Food Bank Malaysia programme to help feed needy people, he said some supermarkets have already come forward to participate in the programme.
“I hope more organisations will join such programmes because in the long run, it will help improve the living standards of the people and reduce the number of households in B40 group,” he added.
Asked to comment on a report by Khazanah Research Institute that households earning RM2,000 and less have paltry savings as they spend 94.8 per cent of their income every month, Mohd Yusof said: “This is the reality our country’s low-income earners have to face.”
He said they were the ones who were most impacted whenever the prices of goods, food, transportation and utilities went up.
“This is why the government must give priority to helping them. They should be given opportunities to further their studies or upgrade their skills so that they can get better jobs,” he said, adding that low-income earners could also go into part-time ventures like operating food trucks and driving for e-hailing companies to earn some extra money. — Bernama