MAY 15 — Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the International Day of Families. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly earmarked the 15th of May of every year for the world to commemorate the importance of families — the most fundamental units of society.
The International Day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.
On this day, we celebrate not only the importance of our own families, but also reflect on the social and economic problems that less fortunate families may face. A study by the Technical University of Malaysia Malacca cites single families, divorce and domestic violence as the main social issues faced by family institutions in Malaysia. But, what is more pressing is the university’s finding that the economic state of a family is what drives almost all family problems.
A report from the Economic Planning Unit asserts that as of 2014, the top 20 per cent earns a mean monthly gross household income of RM14,305, the middle 40 per cent rakes in RM5,662, while the bottom 40 per cent of households bring in an average of RM2,537. In other words, the typical high-income household is able to sustain his or her household with close to six times the amount that the average low-income household can.
In October 2015, the government declared aims to double the income of the bottom 40 per cent household income group (B40) by 2020. In doing so, this year, the government announced initiatives to cast the net of its cash aid scheme wider — Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) will award RM800 to RM1,000 per year to households with income below RM4,000. However, BR1M is only temporary cash relief. While it may momentarily increase the purchasing power of low-income households, such families will revert to a cash-strapped state once the money runs dry — an especially easy endeavour with the rising costs of living. This is evident as the price level of goods and services for January to March 2016 increased 3.4 per cent as compared to the corresponding period in 2015.
As such, it is imperative that the Malaysian government study and implement policies that not only raise household income in a short-lived manner, but also create job opportunities with equitable pay to support the vulnerable families in Malaysia.
Since its inception 68 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights still rings true, with Article 16(3) reminding us that, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
The Malaysian government should work alongside the opposition, civil society activists and stakeholders across the diverse spectrum to ensure we provide a more sustainable and meaningful future for the families in Malaysia — with the primary focus placed on addressing their social and economic plight. Let the International Day of Families be one filled with care, compassion and upliftment for the families of Malaysia.
* Nurul Izzah Anwar is the Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai and the vice president and elections director of Keadilan.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.