The 1Malaysia clinics, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia grocery chain store and My First Home Scheme are among the initiatives to address the problems faced by the urban poor, the youths and young families.
THE dust has settled on London riots and thousands of suspects are appearing before the judges in the unprecedented round-the-clock court sessions in the UK capital city.
The widespread rioting, looting, arson, mugging and assault had reportedly resulted in five people died, at least 16 injured including a Malaysian student, with an estimated STG200 million (RM984 million) worth of property damage, while local economic activities were significantly compromised.
The riots that had started on August 6 in the north London district of Tottenham and spread rapidly to several areas in the city and, eventually to Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and other cities, involved youths aged between 15 and 24.
At least 10 "heroes" emerged, including a Malaysian accoun-tancy student, Ashraf Rossli, who fell victim to thieves pretending to help him, and Birmingham resident Tariq Jahan, whose son was run down and killed by a car during the chaos.
Heroes aside, it is quite clear that socio-economic factors were behind the the five-day riots.
Prime Minister David Cameron, however, asserted that racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity programme were not the triggers. He believed that criminality, street gang, opportunistic looters and lack of personal responsibility were the roots of the violent disorder.
The debate on the root cause of the unrest will continue, but we, in Malaysia, should learn one or two things from the unfortunate event to avoid the same event from happening here.
The fact that London is Britain's highest income inequality region, where in the inner city, 20 per cent of people have 60 per cent of the total income, already explains the discontent among the Londoners.
The country now has the highest youth population since early 1980s, which is made worst with record levels of youth unemployment. A recent study shows that there are 600,000 people under 25 years old in the UK who have never had a day's work in their lives.
London also has a high proportion of benefits-dependent households, and the cutbacks in government spending, including budget on youth service centre and education allowance, had created more dissatisfaction among the people.
We can also see street protests in other countries which were triggered by faulty socio-political and economic situations. In some countries, people took to the streets to demand a better living condition amid rising costs of living, that shrank their disposable income and eroded their spending power.
Malaysia is not a welfare state like the UK, but it cannot ignore the urban poor in the cities, particularly in Kuala Lumpur.
The government's move to cut down subsidies to prevent the widening of the country's budget deficit has created disenchantment among the urbanites, especially the lower middle-income group. The deficit, which hit a two-decade high of 7 per cent in 2009, is projected to ease to 5.4 per cent this year.
With the petrol price now tagged to the global oil price movement, other products and services in the country have become more expensive. This was made worse with the hikes in electricity tariff and interest rates for bank loans. Although the rationale behind the subsidy cuts and power tariff increase is understandable, for some households, who work day in, day out to put food on the table, costly products, services and utilities mean difficulty to maintain a decent living. This is even harder for those who have to service home and car loans when the salary level in most sectors is rather stagnant in the past few years.
The government, which is executing its plans to make Malaysia a developed, high-income economy by 2020, is aware of the plight of people in the lower income bracket. The 1Malaysia clinics, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia grocery chain store and My First Home Scheme are among the initiatives to address the problems faced by the urban poor, the youths and young families.
However, the rising cost of living which is eating away at people's earnings and hard-earned savings, may widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the country. In the long run, if the matter is not addressed, it would create discontentment among the urbanites as most of the wealth created goes to a small, already wealthy elite.
Therefore, more needs to be done by the government to ease the pain of the rising cost of living. In some areas, reforms are badly needed while in others, some practices need to be abolished. Be more responsive to concerns of the people and more flexible to meet their needs. After all, government policies and programmes are not carved in stone and can be tweaked to strike a balance between creating the nation's real wealth, a successful business community and a productively-employed, contented population.