KUALA LUMPUR: DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago has warned that social conflict will arise if the emerging “underclass” in Malaysia is not addressed.
Speaking at a press conference at the Dewan Rakyat here today, Santiago said the “underclass” comprised “another” Malaysia where people were employed but poor.
“We will create social conflicts in the country if we do not address the new underclass that is developing.
“This new underclass is going to come back with a vengeance,” he said, adding that the trend could be seen in other countries as well.
Santiago said the new group was developing due to current economic trends, where Malaysians were split into two categories: the underclass and the elite.
His comments followed a study by Merdeka Center which revealed that some Malaysians were resorting to skipping a meal a day in order to stay afloat.
“Fifteen percent of Malaysians were said to resort to skipping a meal a day to ensure survival, and 27% of people wouldn’t be able to fork out even RM500 in an emergency. Never before have Malaysians resorted to such drastic measures,” he said.
“Further statistics say the wages to GDP ratio is 34%, which makes Malaysia one of the most unequal nations in the world.”
Santiago said the study also revealed that up to 11% of Malaysians had pawned their belongings for food.
“Sixty-four percent of Malaysians are worried about their futures despite the government thumping its chest with the recently announced 6% GDP growth,” he added.
“Only the elite enjoy the fruits of this growth, whereas the middle class and poor find it difficult to put food on the table.”
According to Santiago, the 1MDB financial scandal had eroded the confidence of investors and contributed to the weak ringgit, while the GST and fuel price hikes affected the poor.
He said two steps needed to be taken to address the situation in the short run.
“First, we need a minimum wage hike. Secondly, prices for essential goods must be reduced.”
He said Malaysia needed to be food-sufficient, where enough food could be produced domestically instead of relying on imports.
“Now we import a lot of food from overseas, and with the weak currency, we are finding it difficult to cope. It is putting a strain on Malaysian families.
“In the 70s and 80s, we were food-sufficient,” he added.