More giveaways in Budget 2021 to help disadvantaged?

the incentive to hire persons with disabilities is a welcome step, together with the Social Assistance Support for Vulnerable Groups targeting vulnerable groups. - NSTP/File picthe incentive to hire persons with disabilities is a welcome step, together with the Social Assistance Support for Vulnerable Groups targeting vulnerable groups. – NSTP/File pic

THE Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana) shows that the government wants to reach out to the most vulnerable in Malaysia, especially persons with disabilities, single mothers and youth. Among progressive measures in the plan include monetary incentives of RM800 per month for up to 6 months for companies hiring jobless individuals up to 40 years of age who would additionally benefit from comprehensive reskilling and up-skilling programmes.

Extremely important also is providing RM1,000 per month for up to 6 months for employment of those who are 40-years-old and above, or persons with disabilities. These kinds of incentives, in the short run, together with a stronger and more inclusive education system and welfare state in the longer run, could really bring meaningful changes in the lives of persons with disabilities.

Dealing with discrimination and vulnerabilities of all kinds requires strong measures based on equity that can readdress the unjust fixtures rooted in society. Witness what is happening in the United States where persistent structural inequalities have been prejudicing the chances of success at life for millions of African Americans.

Therefore, the incentive to hire persons with disabilities is a welcome step, together with the Social Assistance Support for Vulnerable Groups targeting vulnerable groups. In this case, persons with disabilities and single mothers will get one-off financial assistance equivalent to RM300. Interestingly, within the same package, there are also opportunities to foster civic engagement and volunteerism.

In this case, companies where the state has a controlling stake, the so called government linked companies (GLCs), will roll out community partnerships aimed at uplifting local communities under the GLC Penjana Komuniti initiative. New collaborations can emerge with the expertise and resources of these companies matching the skills of students. In order for the government be able to achieve the ambitious set of measures, two suggestions:

First, leverage existing stakeholders to deliver the actions presented. Second, use this stimulus to lay the foundations for an even more socially inclusive and innovative budget next year.

Not-for-profit organisations should play an important role in the service delivery, ensuring that those who really need the most will avail of the promised services. The government should also collaborate and partner with local universities, as many have active student engagement programmes.

The Asia-Pacific University-Community Engagement Network (APUCEN) at Universiti Sains Malaysia could play an important role as knowledge brokers and intermediary, laying the foundations for high impact students’ involvement in 2021 when we all hope the situation will allow universities and learning institutions to go back to normal routines.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) has a strong tradition in the promotion of volunteerism, including the implementation of the Asean Youth Volunteer Programme (AYVP), which could offer expertise and know-how too, while Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) has a strong programme of working with Orang Asli, one of the most distressed communities even before the pandemic.

A special package for Orang Asli should be inclusively framed with an aspirational vision of uplifting these citizens out of misery in full and equal partnership with them, respecting their traditions and culture, rather than imposing top down solutions.

Service Learning and student engagement should emerge, predominantly in the next budget, supporting existing organisations like Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (YSS)/Student Volunteers Foundation.

New innovative national volunteering programmes could be also designed to develop youths’ skills while creating impact locally. Another area that deserves major attention is related to social entrepreneurship. Over the lockdown, some brilliant social enterprises like Biji-Biji – normally focused on recycling and promotion of a circular economy – started producing protective personal equipment.

Others are EPIC and TANDEMIC and NeOOne, all catalysts of impactful social change whose work is truly cutting edge and transformational.

Hopefully, the Penjana stimulus will lay the ground work for an even more inclusive and socially innovative budget under the banner of Sustainable Development Goals, a budget that should also enhance initiatives truly empowering the most disadvantaged segments.

The fact that the stimulus includes a RM10 million matching grant through Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) totalling RM10 million for social enterprises which will crowdsource contributions and donations for high impact innovative projects, is a good sign that more should come next year.

By Simone Galimberti.

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