March 24, 2016
Forgotten people in our midst, no BR1M for them
As hard times hit, there are probably more depressed and desperate people out there than we think.
In difficult times, the rich can make do without a few of their usual luxuries and the middle class will tighten their belts and somehow weather the storm. But what about the desperate classes?
Recently, a father of three was caught stealing RM27 worth of food from a Tesco store to feed his hungry children. That story is well known by now, perhaps because of its happy ending. It contrasts sharply with the story of the housewife who ended up in jail for stealing a packet of Milo for her daughter.
Are there more poor and hungry families out there than we thought? The people in these two cases turned to petty crime out of desperation. How many more such cases go unreported?
According to a friend who passes remote villages in the course of his work, the suffering in rural areas is acute and has been so for the past ten years. The cost of goods have been rising steadily and the ringgit does not stretch as far as it could before. Rubber tappers, especially, simply cannot cope. We rarely hear their stories.
People who work in charity organisations say cases of depression, suicide, domestic abuse and drug use rise when times are bad.
She has no problems and does she care?
A woman who declined to be named said she dreaded falling ill because she could not afford the cost of going to the clinic or buying medicines.
One single mother complains that she hardly sees her two children because she is trying to make ends meet with two jobs. She is fortunate that she is staying with her mother, who takes care of her children while she is at work. What about the legions of single women who live far away from their mothers?
The British American Tobacco company announced last week that it would close down its factory in Petaling Jaya and lay off 230 people. This came just after The Malaysian Insider said it was forced to fold up, resulting in the loss of about 60 jobs.
A friend who works in the airline industry said he had to relocate so that he could pay the mortgage on his house and finance his children’s education. Others have had to be retrained. And there are doctors who have been forced to transfer to locations where the demand for their services is higher.
Someone who helps out in soup kitchens says the queues are growing longer. According to him, the number of homeless people is increasing.
Earlier this year, some students claimed they were so deprived that they could eat only once a day.
Going by anecdotal evidence, the number of domestic abuse cases will rise with the economic downturn as breadwinners, usually the husbands, are laid off or suffer a reduction in their take home pay. Intense pressure on family finances sometimes cause people to vent their anger on their spouses or children.
Mothers skimp on food for themselves so that their children can have enough to eat. It’s common for women in such dire straits to ignore the possibility of their falling ill for lack of nutrition. In the long run, this will make matters worse for their families.
What about the many elderly people who live alone?What is the government and its welfare services doing to increase help for the most vulnerable communities?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.