It's more income, not financial literacy that the poor need

OCTOBER 28 — There are a lot of terrible things on Twitter, myself included, but one particularly irksome thing is personal finance Twitter.

As someone who's actually been poor, it's obvious to me that the advice given by these personal finance gurus are from people who've never actually experienced true poverty.

The recently announced financial literacy month, aimed to "empower the people with financial knowledge and skills" to quote a Bernama piece seemed rather tone-deaf during a time when people have lost their jobs and livelihoods through no fault of their own.

It's a problem — this belief among many of the rich and upper middle class that the poor are just poor because they make terrible decisions with their money.

Recently a Tory MP was pilloried on Twitter for defending his decision to vote against providing free meals for school children.

He said that if a parent had no money to feed their children, then why not sell the family pearls or mobile phones?

It's laughable to think the average working class person in Britain has a stash of pearls lying around in case of emergency, and the MP seems to have forgotten that mobile phones are necessities, not luxuries now.

Depressed wages is a problem across Malaysia; salaries these days (except for CEOs and the like, of course) haven't budged much from when I entered the job market two decades ago.

While I think it is wise to educate people about the risks of debt and the importance of savings, the reality is, as comedian Sam Whyte says often: you can't budget your way out of poverty.

Activist Syed Azmi often has to deal with well-meaning but insensitive comments when he publicises donation drives. Middle-class people chime in asking why these poor people are asking for diapers and formula, can't they breastfeed or use washable cloth diapers instead?

Poor man got so frustrated getting such unhelpful comments and honestly I would be too.

I follow his page and read the many pleas for aid from the poor and it's heartbreaking to be honest. Some ask for food because they have absolutely nothing left to feed their kids, some beg for cash to help them start a business or beg for essentials.

What's rather annoying is the constant push for the poor to become entrepreneurs but entrepreneurship isn't for everyone, requires some form of capital and often involves risks that the poor cannot afford.

The only people who don't worry about getting employed apparently are the politicians who have cushy GLC appointments fall into their laps. Meanwhile, some poor single mother is trying to sell sad-looking hot dogs by the roadside because her capital doesn't extend to anything else, and she has to pay money to a sitter on top of that.

One invisible expense that the rich don't see with the poor is that it's really expensive to be poor in the first place. Being poor means going to the more expensive sundry shop near you because the cheaper hypermarket would cost you as much in travel as you would supposedly "save."

I will still never get over another famous local personal finance blogger who wondered out loud if she could superglue her broken dental retainer.

As someone who, as a kid, had to put up with taped-together glasses when they were broken until my parents had enough money for a new pair, I was more than a little livid. 

The poor often have to do shoddy repairs of broken items because they have no alternative — for someone who can afford to replace an important item without issue and then resort to ridiculously excessive (and dangerous) frugality is ridiculous. 

Privately though I wondered if I should have egged her on, just to see how much her dental bill would be once the superglue damaged her enamel. 

Right now there is insufficient effort put into raising the standard of living for the poor — I might criticise China's shoddy human rights record but at the very least, you can clearly see efforts to decrease poverty, and making it a collective national effort.

One Chinese blogger put up a video of her wandering into an exhibit at a mall that recreated the kind of homes Chinese used to live in before and marvelling at how much living conditions had improved since then.

It's 2020 and instead of a high-income nation, I would say Malaysia is more the country of high-income politicians.

I'm just afraid that in the future our youngsters will think that the only way to have a comfortable and safe future is to become a politician. You can't blame them because from where I'm standing, it sure looks that way.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles