By Sofea Azahar
The inaugural Budget 2021 delivered by the Perikatan Nasional government appears to be a reflection of them trying their best to support the vulnerable groups affected by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic through the announced initiatives especially for youths.
But for some initiatives, they still need enhancements.
EMIR Research released two parts of preliminary commentaries for the budget on Nov 6 but, subsequently, individual opinion pieces would be released to provide in-depth insights.
Following are the main government initiatives dedicated for the youths:
Private employers are given incentive of up to RM1,000 per month for up to three months for new graduates to join apprenticeship programmes and the employers can claim a grant of up to RM4,000 for training programmes for the apprentices;
Hiring incentives (PenjanaKerjaya);
Reskilling and upskilling programmes with fund allocations provided to several involving government agencies;
Introduction of short-term employment programme (MySTEP);
Cash assistance ranging between RM350 and RM1,200 through Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat (BPR) for B40 and M40 households as well as singles;
Monthly welfare aid of RM150 each, under Department of Social Welfare (JKM), for B40 children aged 7-18;
Measures to increase home ownership for first-time house buyers such as full stamp duty exemption until year 2025 and a Rent-to-Own (RTO) scheme;
E-wallet credit worth RM50 for youth aged 18 to 20 via eBelia programme;
A contribution worth RM150 million from GLCs and GLICs to Tabung Cerdik for provision of laptops to 150,000 in schools (a pilot project);
An allocation of RM100 million for laptop loan scheme for PTPTN borrowers;
Empowerment of TVET with an allocation of RM6 billion;
Telecommunication credit of RM180 to B40 Malaysians through Jaringan Prihatin Programme in 1Q21; and
Extension of Wage Subsidy Programme (WSP) for another three months for the hardest-hit sectors such as tourism for employees earning RM4,000 and below.
It is positive to see that the proposals written in my previous article prior to the budget titled Budget 2021 – Youth’s wish list to endure the crisis, namely the extension of hiring and training incentives, RTO scheme for affordable houses and improvement of digital infrastructure for education access, were considered for the budget.
Nonetheless, there are several measures which are missed out or they are not up to the expected level.
For instance, findings from EMIR Research’s focus group discussion (FGD) in July involving youths revealed that students generally find it hard to sustain their living (financial anxiety), even those with scholarships due to insufficient funds to commit to their daily expenses while studying.
Firstly, government’s cash assistance for the underprivileged tertiary-education level students would help to cover at least their necessary living expenses alongside giving them more time to focus on their studies.
In the first RM250 billion stimulus package Prihatin, there was a one-off cash aid worth RM200 for higher-education students but sadly, it ended there.
Although Budget 2021 revealed that the B40 children who will be receiving JKM’s monthly welfare aid include the youths, it is only a small share of them considering the eligibility is only up to the 18-year-olds.
What about those aged beyond 18 attending university with no jobs and they are in the B40 group or partly M40 students who could be in an unfortunate situation too?
Perhaps, the government can consider distributing another round of cash assistance of RM200 to RM300 for the university students in these income groups.
This allocation would indeed be timely as the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) had been extended to another four weeks until Dec 6, thus forcing students to continue studying at home, and they will need to buy books and other learning materials.
Secondly, the RM50 e-wallet credit announced for youth seems to be limited in coverage as it is only for those aged 18 to 20 when the youth population who are leveraging e-wallet to commit to their daily expenses accounts for more than that.
Therefore, it is hoped that the government can consider increasing the allocation for the eBelia programme to provide e-wallet credits to a bigger population of youth. As spoken by the Finance Minister during the Budget speech, “youths play an important role as pioneers and consumers in adopting the latest technology.”
Finally, although the government tackles the issue of unemployment amongst youth in the budget, the initiative to address underemployment appears to be limited to sectors with high reliance on foreign workers – a special incentive of 60 per cent of monthly salary in which 40 per cent will be channelled to the employers while 20 per cent will be the top-up to local workers’ salaries replacing foreign workers.
What about the other sectors that are not highly dependent on foreign workers which have a concentration of youths with high qualification levels but who are underpaid?
It is a matter of matching the industry demand and the supply of graduates into the labour market and, hence, the necessity for education and training institutions to cooperate effectively with the industry players.
In the midst of the unprecedented crisis, everyone is trying their best to survive, so are the youths, thus, the urgent call to realise these proposals.
Sofea Azahar is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.