Covid-19 lockdown: Malaysians with pay cuts struggled more than jobless to pay bills, survey found

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Matt Benson devised the ‘You ok or not during MCO?’ survey. — Picture courtesy of Think City

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — During the movement control order (MCO), many businesses were affected when the country came to a halt almost overnight.

In the most extreme of cases, businesses closed and people lost their job. Then there are those who had to take pay cuts.

Of the latter, a Think City survey found that they struggled to pay bills and rents more than those who did not have jobs.

Just above half of the survey’s respondents said they faced difficulties paying rent while another 43 per cent said they struggled to pay utility bills.

Only 29 per cent among the jobless made such complaints.

The finding was similar across the self-employed with reduced earnings. Fifty-two per cent of respondents expressed difficulties paying rent while another 45 per cent had to scrape together money for utility bills.

Stress levels between them and those lucky to still have jobs with retained salaries were even more glaring. Just a fifth complained about paying rent or bills.

The survey, titled “You ok or not during MCO?”, didn’t explain the reasons for the difference in stress levels between the unemployed and those who took pay cuts.

Every survey ought to relate to the target audience intimately. — Picture courtesy of Think City

So it begs the question as to why those with jobs felt the pinch more than those who don’t.

An explanation, if one is to speculate, could be lifestyle changes.

Decreased pay means you have less disposable income to sustain a certain level of lifestyle, which could intensify the perception of effort.

Meanwhile those without jobs may have adapted to minimal spending and have fewer financial obligations.

The stress levels were also different across sectors, reflecting the varying degree of Covid-19 impact on the economy.

Workers in sectors like sales, arts and entertainment, and architecture and engineering struggled more to pay their rents or mortgage and bills than those in highly specialised fields like healthcare or computers and mathematics.

The survey, which sought to find out if people coped well under the partial lockdown, polled 2,240 respondents. It ran from May 15 to May 23.

Matt Benson, a programme director for Think City and the survey’s creator, said the survey was meant to gather baseline data on how Malaysians fared under restrictions.

Responses were measured according to gender and wealth so disparities in stress levels could be identified.

The survey found most people remained happy and relaxed during the MCO by spending time with family/friends (57 per cent), attending to hobbies (53 per cent), and being entertained online (43 per cent).

But nearly a quarter of people (23 per cent) felt less motivated, while a small proportion (14 per cent) felt super-motivated.

“While there were certainly some people who struggled with the basics like paying bills, the majority felt more connected to the rest of humanity, had improved relationships with their family and took the time to reflect spiritually,” Benson said.

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