Saturday, February 14, 2009

Falling between the welfare cracks….

At Jumble Station (JS), we often get this question from well wishers and donors – why can’t the single parent go out to work or get welfare help if their situation is so bad. Well, most times, the single parent is illiterate or poorly educated so menial jobs or factory work is all that she can aspire to.
Next is the issue of getting sufficient pay, enough at least to cover the cost of transport going to and from work, food and childcare fees – working as a housemaid or a factory hand certainly won’t cover this, not if you have 4-5 constantly hungry kids to feed and clothe.

It helps if your kids are a little older, then you don’t really have to worry about paying a childminder and your kids can care for themselves after school, leaving you free to get a job. Such was the case of single mother Panajalan who JS has been helping on a monthly basis.

Panjalan has a 19 year old son, Kumeran and a 17 year old daughter Sujata. Her husband died of a heart attack in January last year leaving her with no money or income. She currently works at a small kindergarten which is a walking distance from the flat she is renting just above JS’ shop at Angsana, USJ1 Subang Jaya.

Her take home pay is RM595 each month, rental for the flat is RM380, utilities is RM37 a month and the kids get RM4 a day for bus fare and lunch

Monthly income/expenses:

Take home pay: RM595
Rent: RM380
TNB + Water = RM37
Allowance for bus fare + lunch for 2 kids = RM160 a month
Balance left for food = RM18

Not surprisingly, the family has been subsisting on bread and milo and occasional handouts from relatives who are themselves not rich. Jumble Station learnt about their plight and took them to the Welfare Department for aid.

After close to 6 months of waiting, the Welfare Department finally agreed to provide aid but it turned out to be only RM100! So its RM50 per child - is that all? We took another trip to the Welfare office and we were told quite curtly that the RM100 was only for Sujata and not Kumeran!

Turns out Kumeran, having turned 18 last year was not eligible for welfare aid according to the Malaysian law. The law disregards the fact that Kumeran is still studying (fees paid for by a relative) and unemployable for perhaps another 2-5 years!

When asked if there was any aid for a single mother, the Welfare staff swiftly said “No”. She then asked for Panjalan’s age and on learning that she was only 50plus said, oh kalau you 60 sahaja boleh dapat sumbangan (oh if you’re 60 you are entitled to aid for the elderly). When I told her that even with welfare aid the family only has RM118 to survive on, the Welfare staff offhandedly suggested that Panjalan find a 2nd job. A very dejected Panjalah said that she is unable to cope with a 2nd job because she currently has high blood pressure which makes it tough to work long hours!

So there you have it – a family genuinely in need of help but the Welfare Department has its hands tied by laws that make very little sense. Even the RM100 aid it gives now will be stopped next year once Sujata hits 18 years old! At that time, Panjalan will be older, frailer and more sickly while her kids will need more money to pursue their studies because education is the only way in which the family can someday get out of the vicious poverty cycle that now enslaves them.

In the meantime, Jumble Station is pitching in to assist with groceries each month, Kumeran earns as little by repairing the CPUs that come to JS and Sujata earns RM10 each time she volunteers in our little shop. The next three to four years will be tougher as Kumeran pursues his interest in Computing studies and Sujata guns for accountancy but where will they get the money to pay for their studies?

The one year since their sole breadwinner died has not been easy for them at all but one must salute their determination to earn where possible and make do with whatever they have. It is families like these that deserve a helping hand and it’s time the law is amended to meet needs rather than age criteria don’t you think?