Covid-19 created “new poor” and “differently poor” individuals

Picture from The Star

By John Isaac

THOUGH the Covid-19 virus may infect the rich and poor alike – it is the latter who have felt the brunt of its far-reaching, terrible effects.

Permatang Pauh MP, Nurul Izzah Anwar said these include poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, lack of access to healthcare, disempowerment, poor quality of work and living with the threat of violence, among others.

“With the enforcement of restricted movement orders and prolonged lockdowns, the virus has shown the precariousness of people’s financial situations when they begin to lose their main sources of income, particularly those relying on daily wages.

“The disparity of healthcare provision also becomes painfully obvious, as people fall ill without the benefit of access to healthcare services or the safety net of protective health insurance,” she said.

She said the reduction of public transport options compounded with caregiving responsibilities has also made it difficult for deprived individuals to seek the food and basic necessities they need, especially when their nearest sundry shops begin charging exorbitant prices, or are not adequately stocked.

The digital divide penalises rural communities who are mostly disconnected from accessing stable internet connections or suitably working devices – rendering them unable to optimally partake in an online school environment.

“This crisis has shown that there are many more living in deprivation, beyond those classified as “poor” by official data, and indeed, beyond those eligible for government aid. This means that for many people, poverty was just a disaster away, and this disaster has struck.

“The government has taken steps to put cash directly into citizens’ hands and to provide relief for the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Households and individuals with monthly income below the thresholds of RM8,000 and RM4,000 respectively are eligible for aid.

“However, when aid is defined by income and income only, it fails to capture the full spectrum of deprivation faced. As a result of the viral outbreak, we are seeing the rise of “new poor”, or “differently poor” individuals. Every day, inequalities are being exacerbated in new and unprecedented ways,” she said.

In order to formulate inclusive and effective policies, Nurul said we must recognise the many dimensions of poverty, confront the glaring lapses in data where vulnerable segments of people go unrepresented, and ensure fair and accurate collection of data.