When working is not an option
December 13, 2015, Sunday
THE welfare system for disabled persons in Malaysia needs to be reviewed and revamped.
This should be done for two reasons. First, it is to counter the rising costs of living since the implementation of GST, the reduction of subsidies and depreciation of the ringgit. Even the members of Parliament voted to increase their own salaries by RM4,500 in April this year.
The second reason is for a more equitable distribution of aid and one that reflects the expenses necessary for basic living. However, the way the financial assistance is structured is perplexing. Those who are “productive” can secure more assistance than those who are not.
Disabled persons drawing a monthly income of RM1,200 and below can apply for the allowance for disabled workers (EPC) of RM350 monthly.
According to the Department of Social Welfare, the allowance is an incentive to encourage them to continue working, become selfsufficient and productive, and to cover their basic living necessities.
Those who are unable to work are only eligible to apply for monthly financial assistance of RM200. This is the irony of the situation.
While I understand the logic behind the incentive to encourage gainful employment, I cannot fathom the reason for the lower amount of monetary assistance for those who are unable to work and have no income.
Is it not sensible to provide them with more financial assistance?
There are a number of reasons why disabled persons are unable to work. It could be due to the severity of their impairments, the lack of academic qualifications, prejudiced employers, and barriers in the environment and transport. From time to time, I would get messages from other disabled persons asking if I know of any job opening.
They had been searching but unsuccessfully. It certainly was not for want of trying they are not working.
Not all disabled persons are covered by insurance, SOCSO or have families that can support them financially. For those who have no other sources of income, how long can the RM200 monthly allowance last? One week? Two weeks?
No doubt there is a slew of other benefits for disabled persons like provision of assistive devices and free medical treatments at government hospitals. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, even with all those benefits, we still need to eat. The policy-makers and officers holding the purse strings should honestly ask themselves if they can survive with this sum of money on food for one month.
In most cases, food is not our largest expenditure. The disposable medical items we have to use are. Medical treatments may be free but we have to pay out-of-pocket for many of the disposable items we use on a daily basis like diapers, catheters and urine bags.
Some medicines are not provided by the hospitals and they can be quite expensive. All these will set us back RM400 monthly, at the very least.
We may be able to skip meals occasionally but scrimping on these items that maintain our health is not an option. Using catheters and urine bags longer than recommended could result in urinary tract infection, which, at its worst, could irreversibly damage the kidneys. That is not all. Because buses are not accessible, we have to take a taxi every time we need to go out to get these items or for important appointments. And taxi fares are not cheap.
We are not talking about creatures of comfort here. These are rudimentary for survival. Many find it hard to make ends meet.
The imposition of GST on the essential items adds a greater burden to our already strained finances. Policy-makers should walk a mile or two in our shoes to understand the hardships we are enduring when they make decisions that affect our livelihood.
Disabled persons are not statistics. We are real. Our problems are real. Our needs are real. In all the conferences and seminars on disability I have attended since 2005, there has been little discussion on how the social system can support the financial aspects of non-working disabled persons.
When it comes to money for welfare, there is always the excuse of not enough allocations from the government to go around but astonishingly there is always money for mega-projects.
There are those who are in real need of support and they should get it. These are human lives and dignity we are talking about. Giving RM200 is mere tokenism any way I see it. The monthly financial assistance for non-working disabled persons should be revised upwards to a more realistic sum.
It should cover two square meals a day and all the essential medical items required to maintain their health.
Society values accomplishment and applauds productivity. I have no argument with that. At the same time, we should not overlook those who do not measure up to these standards due to their impairments or other unavoidable circumstances.
We can only grow as a society if we help each other and provide support for those who need it to ensure they too are able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.