UN expert debunks M’sia claims of low poverty, says it is grossly underreported

Poverty rate should be closer to 16-20 per cent, rather than the official 0.4 per cent.

Jason Fan | August 24, 2019 @ 02:12 pm


Malaysia may have grossly underreported their poverty rate, according to United Nations (UN) human rights expert, Phillip Alston.

Instead of the official poverty rate of 0.4 per cent, Alston estimates that the true figure is between 16 to 20 per cent, according to The Star.

National poverty line unrealistically low

Officially, Malaysia’s poverty rate has dropped from 49 per cent in 1970 to just 0.4 per cent in 2016.

While the figures may suggest that Malaysia has almost eradicated poverty within the country, the country’s unrealistic and outdated poverty line may prove otherwise.

The national poverty line of S$325 per household per month would leave an urban family with only S$2.70 per person per day, which is “a tragically low line for a country on the cusp of attaining high-income status”, Alston said.

He also said that while it may have made sense in 1970,  “Malaysia’s national poverty line is not consistent with the cost of living or household income”.

Government should not deny existence of the poor

Alston said that despite near-universal healthcare and high school enrolment rates for Malaysian citizens, large populations living above the official poverty line are in fact in poverty.

He brought up the example of indigenous people in Malaysia who suffer much higher rates of poverty, compared to the rest of the populace.

Non-citizens such as migrants, refugees and stateless people also face severe barriers to healthcare and education, and are often unable to work legally.

These people are also systematically excluded from official poverty statistics.

Alston advised the Malaysian government to urgently revise the way it measures poverty to bring it in line with the country’s cost of living, and also include vulnerable non-citizen groups within the new measure.

He says that although Malaysia has made progress on the issue, the new government should not deny the existence of the poor and marginalised.

A comprehensive report with Alston’s conclusions and recommendations will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2020.

Top image from Phillip Alston/Twitter.

About Jason Fan

Jason dreams of visiting every country in the world and not dying in the process.  

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