PETALING JAYA: DAP MP Charles Santiago has called for bipartisan support to turn universal basic income (UBI) into reality as proposed by Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan.
Mohamad’s idea was also welcomed by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) chairman Dr Michael Jeyakumar.
Santiago told FMT: “He’s (Mohamad) right in calling for a UBI. There can be bipartisan support for this and I would like to tell Mohamad we can hold a joint press conference about it. We need an equitable society, especially in times of crisis like now.”
With numerous families struggling to put food on the table since the Covid-19 pandemic and the movement control order (MCO) in March, the UBI would provide them with a certain amount of money every month to spend on essentials.
Santiago, an economist by training, said Malaysians have to acknowledge the poverty among certain communities, warning that it could cause social disharmony if left unchecked.
“We have a new segment of urban poor due to Covid-19 and the MCO, which has further exacerbated income inequality,” he said.
Mohamad had said the government needs to consider a temporary universal basic income policy for the low-income group in Malaysia, and cited a recent report by two United Nations agencies which outlined how low-income households in Kuala Lumpur have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 crisis and the MCO.
Stating that the UBI policy was “very much needed” to ensure adequate income for all Malaysians, he said the money would be used to help them secure food and basic necessities.
Among the key findings of the report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN children’s fund, Unicef, which Mohamad cited, was that the heads of one in four households in the survey of 500 households living in low-cost flats lost their jobs during the MCO.
Total monthly median earnings of the households dropped from RM1,500 in 2019 to RM1,000 in June – much less than half the amount of the government’s poverty threshold of RM2,208 announced last month.
Mohamad’s idea was also welcomed by Jeyakumar, who previously suggested that each family in need receive RM1,000 a month – based on certain criteria – to meet their basic necessities such as food, shelter, basic utilities and healthcare.
“We cannot compromise on these (essentials),” he said, adding that the government could look to low interest loans from Bank Negara Malaysia to fund the programme.
“The UBI would help the bottom portion of society (and) once you put in money there, it will go back into the local economy.
“For too long we have been looking at poverty as a problem of the poor. People say they are lazy, not educated or not skilled, but we are not looking at the systematic factors that create poverty,” he said.
The idea is also gaining increased traction globally, with Germany starting a trial UBI last week and Finland carrying out a successful two-year experiment on it in 2018.
The UN had also brought up the idea in June, with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) issuing a call for nearly three billion of the world’s poorest people to receive a temporary basic income due to the Covid-19 pandemic crippling global commerce and leaving tens of millions of people unemployed.
Stating that measures to protect vulnerable populations are “urgently needed”, UNDP said funding of US$199 billion a month would provide 2.7 billion people with a temporary basic income and the “means to buy food and pay for health and education expenses”.