NOT saving is the least of worries for Penang low-cost housing residents struggling to put food on the table.

They told The Malaysian Insight they are under constant financial pressure as the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of abating more than eight months later.

Before the health crisis, Muhammad Hafiz earned a comfortable living selling prayer items at his stall near Masjid Jamek Seberang Jaya in Permatang Pauh. He made enough to support a wife and baby.

That changed in March when the movement-control order (MCO) was enforced in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I used to be able to save at least RM500 a month. My income from the business easily exceeded RM2,000,” he said at home in Flat Taman Pauh Indah.

“But I have not been able to save any money since March.

“What I make now is sometimes enough, sometimes not, to meet my commitments.”

He’s trying not to dip into the little savings he has but had to sell the van that he kept to run his business. That fetched RM11,000.

To pay the rent and car loan, Hafiz has taken several jobs.

“I sell bicycles to pay for my car. To earn extra income, I registered as a water-filter agent and whenever I have free time, I do Foodpanda,” said Hafiz, who also receives RM1,300 aid each month from Zakat Pulau Pinang as a trader hard hit by the virus.

Hafiz’s monthly expenditure comes up to about RM1,500.

“The car instalment is RM500, rent is RM350.

“It’s hard to pay our monthly commitments with my current income, let alone save… it’s impossible.”

A Unicef survey on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on low-cost housing residents in Kuala Lumpur found that one in two households are living below the poverty line.

It said 68% of household heads did not have enough savings, 70% could not afford to pay for basic needs, 37% didn’t have enough food and 35% could not pay their bills.

Only 14% of household heads thought their financial status would improve in the next six months.

Uncertain future

Single mother of five, Noor Ikdzahuri Mohamed, 44, also faces financial difficulties.

Before Covid-19, she made RM6 an hour working at a snack shop. With overtime and allowances, she took home RM1,000-RM1,200 a month.

But since the MCO, her employer has shortened the operating hours thereby cutting her hours, too.

“My current income is not enough to cover daily expenses but I am lucky to get zakat aid of RM400 a month,” she said.

Rent costs RM100 a month in the Desa Wawasan flats in Bukit Mertajam.

Ikdzahuri cannot afford a computer and internet access for her daughter who is in form five.

“She does not want to continue studying and has found a job in a furniture shop. She gets work and is paid only when the owner calls her.”

Ikdzahuri said she did not know what to do.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen six months down the road.

“Of course, I’ve thought about switching to a job that pays more but it’s difficult to find a job now. It’s better to stick with what you have for now.”

Cutting expenses

Noraini Mohamad Noor, 43, lives in Projek Perumahan Rakyat Ampang Jajar in Permatang Pauh.

She and her husband each earn RM900 a month as cleaners.

They used to supplement their income selling food at night but stopped when the MCO was introduced.

In such a situation, she said it is difficult to have savings.

“Before the MCO, we bought food for the whole month when we shopped. That means 5kg of sugar, two bags of rice. But now we only buy when they’re depleted.

“And even that depends on whether we have money or not.”

Noraini said internet service for her three children’s virtual school lessons cost RM300 a month.

“So, my husband and I collect recyclables while cleaning so that we can sell them for extra money.”

Noraini said paying for their car is now a big challenge. “Regardless, I have to set aside RM600 a month to pay the car instalment.

“It looks like the situation will remain bleak for a long time. My husband and I are doing all we can to survive.”