An inclusive social protection for all: Malaysia's Social Protection project launched

A collaborative initiative with the Implementation Coordination Unit (ICU), Prime Minister’s Department

October 3, 2022

Re-evaluating social protection systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many important lessons. Not only have we learnt that even countries with the most progressive social protection systems were not prepared for the crisis, but it has also forced us to rethink the very parameters of our social protection systems, to be one that is more responsive and inclusive, where no one is left behind.

For the past two years, the pandemic tested the resiliency of local economies and revealed the gaps in a nation’s fundamentals – whether that be economic, financial, or social.  The unprecedented crises shook many impeding quality of life and access to many of the basic essentials required on a daily, including food, energy, and shelter. Across the world and in Malaysia, we saw many people struggling to make ends meet, while prices of commodities rose sky-high.

The impact on the economy can be seen clearly with the high number of retrenchments resulting in many resorting to informal economic activities, gig economy and set up quick businesses. Indeed, the pandemic set back decades of investment and policy choices made by governments and communities to raise people out of poverty.

Malaysia’s response to the pandemic

The pandemic has also demonstrated the most effective mechanisms for deploying social support. Accelerated by the urgency of the crisis, mobile-first communication was utilised to reach affected communities in many countries, while the adoption of digital platforms enabled more efficient interlinking of government and societal resources for better targeting.

In Malaysia, the government expanded the social protection schemes to ensure non-standard workers and those who are traditionally excluded from Malaysia’s bifurcated social protection system are adequately supported during the crisis. For instance, the Government expanded social protection coverage to e-hailing, taxi drivers, tour guides and tour bus drivers received one-off cash assistance during the pandemic.

Under the Penjanagig, the Government introduced social security schemes dedicated to self-employed workers, where they are able to contribute to social security under a subsidised rate.  Quite recently, the Government announced the I-Lindung to boost the insurance uptake among informal workers using special EPF withdrawal and SIP Gig Programme to incentivise enrolment in the gig economy among vulnerable groups such as the retrenched employee, the disabled or former inmates as well as unemployed persons including housewives.

These efforts are commendable, but gig workers registered with these schemes have remained low and with the increase cost-of-living due to inflation, the current social safety net will not be sufficient to protect more rakyat falling into poverty and this would be even harder to recover as we slowly recuperating from the impact of post-pandemic. 

Integrated approach needed to strengthen system

As the global outlook continues to remain uncertain, Malaysia needs to look beyond stop-gap measures. UNDP believes that an inclusive social protection policy alongside better coordination and improved delivery efficiency can secure long-term improved welfare outcomes, while also delivering human capital and productivity gains.  

Against this background, UNDP Malaysia is collaborating with the Implementation Coordination Unit, Prime Minister’s Department, (ICU, PMD) to review specifically the potential integration of databases, improved inter-operability of systems across different agencies and strengthened institutional capacity of social protection delivery. In line with the Twelfth Malaysia Plan (12MP) Strategy A6 on strengthening social protection for all, the project aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the social protection system.

On August 04, 2022, the Strengthening Malaysia’s Social Protection Project was formally launched by Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Development Programme Regional Director of Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, during her one-week strategic mission to Malaysia.

The launching of Malaysia Social Protection Project in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur. From left, YBhg. Datuk Haji Ruji bin Haji Ubi Director-General, Implementation Coordination Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, Ms Kanni Wignaraja, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Niloy Banerjee, Resident Representative, UNDP Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam

The event was attended by over 100 participants comprising of government representatives, development partners, think tanks, academicians, as well civil society organisations (CSOs), the jointly organised ICU, PMD-UNDP policy dialogue provided a timely platform for discussions on innovative mechanisms, instruments, and financing for sustainable and equitable social protection.

 It was clear that an integrated approach to social protection, systematically aligned with broader development programmes and with  national priorities, is the best way forward. One of the panellists, Chua Choon Hwa, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, said that “Social protection needs to be prioritised, integrated, and rationalised. Malaysia does not need 200 social protection schemes but only a number of workable programmes.”

Looking Forward:  Project Activities in Addressing the Gaps

The project, which is expected to be completed by April 2024, will contribute to the country’s first National Social Protection Policy covering aspects such as the institutional arrangements of social assistance focus and delivery and an architectural recommendation of an enhanced social database system that would support a robust and efficient supply chain of social assistance.  The development of the National Social Protection Policy will also take into account the current strategies and mandate of the Malaysia Social Protection Council (MySPC).

The project will also carry out a gender analysis of the current social protection landscape as well as an intersectionality analysis to address gender-associated vulnerabilities in the social registry; Recommendations from these analysis will help address specific gender related vulnerabilities and improve women's access to resources and opportunities, reduce violence against women, and empower women to participate more fully in economic and social life.

Inclusive participatory multi-stakeholder consultations will take the form of focus group discussion with women, youth and indigenous communities among others in the marginalised group, alongside the consultations undertaken with key ministries and government agencies such as the MWCFD, MOF, MOHR, SOCSO, EPF, Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) as well as the EPU. Development partners, academic institutions, CSOs/NGOs as well as the public will be engaged to participate in stakeholder engagement sessions and provide feedback in certain stages of the project.

Media coverage


The authors benefit from comments from Lalitha Monisha Ramesh Kumar, Communication Consultant, reviewed by Asfaazam Kasbani, Assistant Resident Representative (Programme) and Dr Haniza Khalid, Senior Development Economist.