Lee Min Hui was quoted in The Edge Malaysia, 21 June 2024

by Hee En Qi 

KUALA LUMPUR (June 21): Unpaid care and domestic work could create RM379 billion in economic value, and form the second largest sector contributing to Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) after the manufacturing sector if valued, according to the Institute of Strategic & International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

“These figures underscore potential gains from valuing care work, not least for Malaysians who want to work but are unable to because of family and care duties,” it said in a policy paper titled “Building a cradle-to-grave care economy for Malaysia”.

According to ISIS, care work — which spans personal and relational care including caring for children, ill partners and relatives — is primarily undertaken informally in Malaysia, whether unpaid or underpaid.

As many as 3.2 million people, of whom 98% were women, remained outside of the labour force or engaged in part-time work in order to meet domestic work obligations in 2022, ISIS added.

If care constraints were elevated to allow these individuals to participate in the labour force, this would have unlocked 4.9% in GDP growth in the year alone, it said.

As such, the think tank called for the government to institute allowances for caregivers to fully or partially compensate informal caregivers, as well as to enhance retirement savings for full-time caregivers.

“Similar to programmes like i-Saraan, the government could incentivise voluntary contributions by offering matching contributions or top-ups to caregivers,” said ISIS senior analyst Lee Min Hui.

Furthermore, she also suggested extending community-based care from persons with disabilities to the elderly and children.

“Sometimes, people want to take care of their grandparents at home. What if they could drop them off at a community-based care centre during working hours and take them back at night?” she said.

This could provide the elderly with opportunities to interact with their peers and overcome social isolation, while addressing the caregivers’ needs for more temporary, flexible forms of care, she added.

As for working parents in the absense of workplace childcare, Lee noted that companies within a common area should be incentivised to pull up resources and set up childcare centres for their employees.

ISIS also called for the establishment of the National Care Act, where a mandate related to the care economy could be assigned to a group of ministries.

Currently, progress on the care economy is spearheaded by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

“It should be the work of many other ministries,” Lee continued.

“[This includes] the Ministry of Economy, because there is so much value that can be generated; the Ministry of Human Resources, because technical and vocational education and training (TVET) skills and employment conditions of social care workers are considered; the Ministry of Health to better integrate health and social care; and finally, the Ministry of Education to oversee educational qualifications of care workers,” said Lee.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia, 21 June 2024

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