Malaysians still struggle on poverty line

Sixty percent of Malaysians still live on less than $1,600 each month and struggle to buy basic necessities like food.

We stopped to get some drinks and snacks after a long day of filming. 

And as we scoffed chips and chocolate bars in the car, Mark said, “You do realise we’ve just spent the same amount of money the woman we just spoke to has to feed her family for a week.”

We swallowed hard and put the snacks away.

How often do you check the prices of the food you are about to buy?

When I go to the supermarket and I need soup, I buy soup. I look for the gluten free cereal and avoid the wholewheat. Do I choose the extra virgin olive oil or the lemon flavoured one?

Could I tell you how much a litre of milk costs? No.

The only time I’ve looked at the price of something is to consider whether $11 dollars is too much for a small container of raspberries. It is.

But I’m well paid. I’m not one of the half million people in Malaysia living on the poverty line.

Rural poverty

Although the government has done an admirable job reducing poverty in the country since the Millennium Development Goals were introduced in 1990, there’s still a huge challenge ahead.

The goal then – halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by 2015.

That goal has already been achieved.

But over 60 percent of the country still lives on less than $1,600 a month. It’s worse in rural areas where more than 85 percent live on less than $1,600. The highest average monthly income is over $4,000 and the lowest is $615.

Antoinette Devadoss Xavier has three children. Her husband died six years ago, and today she has only a guarantee of $100 dollars each month in welfare benefits.

Even when all her children were under 18 she still received only $300 and would search for reduced priced vegetables. 


Antoinette suffers from a chronic medical condition, so she needs to make sure she gets sufficient potassium every day. But there have been times when fruit was simply off the menu.

“The doctors would tell me, ‘Eat bananas.’ I can’t afford bananas, because that 2 ($0.62) or 3 ringgit ($0.92) is for my basic meal. Bananas are 4 ringgit ($1.23), so I don’t have fruit for all these years, my children don’t have fruit.”

Mohan and Regina Chandran live off the generosity of friends and their local Church group. Their income is a meagre $155 a month.

I asked if he and his wife could survive if government money and donations stop.

“No we could not,” was Mohan’s simple answer.

He felt they could get by on $270 a month, which is still far below the level even the UN thinks is acceptable. While deciding an acceptable level is subjective, the UN told me $1,000 to $1,200 a month could be considered ok.

Maybe I should try it and see.