Im­ple­ment pol­icy on poverty al­le­vi­a­tion im­me­di­ately

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Jae­vion Nel­son is a youth de­vel­op­ment, HIV and hu­man rights ad­vo­cate. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and jae­vion@gmail.com.

JA­MAICA IS squan­der­ing bil­lions of dol­lars every year to re­duce poverty, with a plethora of dis­jointed pro­grammes and ini­tia­tives that do not seem to be ben­e­fit­ing those who are des­per­ately in need of as­sis­tance.

Over 4 per cent of the na­tional bud­get is al­lo­cated through the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice and nine min­istries to help the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble Ja­maicans.

It’s not clear if the ini­tia­tives are at all ef­fec­tive and if they are yield­ing any suc­cess. A great num­ber of our peo­ple con­tinue to live in squalor and are un­able to feed them­selves and their chil­dren. Shame­fully, many of them re­side in con­stituen­cies where some of our most celebrated politi­cians are their rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The poverty rate has moved from less than 10 per cent in 2007 to 12.3 per cent in 2008, 16.5 in 2009, 17.6 in 2010 and 19.9 per cent in 2012. Poverty was as high as 21.3 per cent in ru­ral ar­eas in 2012. Poverty in the Kingston Metropoli­tan Area has risen steadily since 2009 from 12.8 per cent to 19.7 per cent in 2012, which is higher than the rate in other towns. Chil­dren, es­pe­cially those liv­ing in fe­male-headed house­holds, the el­derly and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are most se­verely af­fected.

Poverty, per the Ja­maica Sur­vey of Liv­ing Con­di­tions (JSLC), is cal­cu­lated based on the share of the pop­u­la­tion whose con­sump­tion spend­ing is be­low the thresh­old needed to main­tain an ac­cept­able stan­dard of liv­ing (i.e., the poverty line). In 2012, the poverty line was $143,687 (1,122.56 USD) per year or $393.66 (3.08 USD) per day for an in­di­vid­ual. A fam­ily of five with two adults is ex­pected to have at least $543,059 (4242.65 USD). A lower thresh­old of J$93,755.43 for an in­di­vid­ual and J$354.345 for a fam­ily of five is used to cal­cu­late ex­treme poverty.

WEL­COME DE­VEL­OP­MENTS

I wel­come The Na­tional Pol­icy on Poverty (Green Pa­per) which should hope­fully ad­dress the ‘in­ad­e­quacy of ben­e­fits, tar­get­ing and cost-ef­fec­tive­ness and sus­tain­abil­ity of the pro­grammes based on re­liance on ex­ter­nal fund­ing, as well as du­pli­ca­tion of ef­forts’ that help to stymie our ef­forts in this re­gard. I worry, though, based on my very cur­sory reading of the pol­icy, that the pro­posed in­ter­ven­tions do not seem ad­e­quate to en­sure there is shared pros­per­ity and re­duce poverty sig­nif­i­cantly in my life­time.

The pol­icy pro­poses ‘in­ter­ven­tions, from con­struc­tion of com­mu­nity in­fra­struc­ture such as roads and schools, di­vest­ment of lands un­der favourable terms and con­di­tions, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion projects, ru­ral elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, cli­mate change adap­ta­tion and disaster re­silience and skills build­ing, to cash trans­fers, res­i­den­tial care and em­ploy­ment pro­grammes, ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grammes, health care and in­sur­ance pro­grammes as well as nu­tri­tion sup­port.’

The Gov­ern­ment must be bold in its at­tempt to im­prove the liveli­hood and well­be­ing of the poor and vul­ner­a­ble. We need af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion that chan­nels more re­sources to schools at­tended by chil­dren from poor fam­i­lies. These schools also need ad­di­tional pro­grammes to sup­port these chil­dren ef­fec­tively. PATH ben­e­fits need to be in­creased. Waste must be cut to pro­vide the fis­cal space needed to al­lo­cate more money to schools for their feed­ing pro­grammes. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the reg­u­la­tions around the Dis­abil­i­ties Act need to be ex­pe­dited. Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties need a good ed­u­ca­tion and they need jobs. Ac­tions must be taken to en­cour­age greater in­vest­ments (not more ho­tels and BPOs) out­side of Kingston, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas. Min­i­mum wage needs to be in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly to pro­vide peo­ple with a live­able wage so they can meet their ba­sic needs. The pay gap be­tween men and women needs to be re­duced. Women need an equal op­por­tu­nity for em­ploy­ment and should not be re­stricted from work­ing in cer­tain sec­tors and at cer­tain times. We need to en­sure that every­one has a pen­sion.

Im­por­tantly, we need to re­duce in­equal­ity in our coun­try. As com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment practition­er Gavin My­ers says, “If you re­duce poverty, you deal with a limited part of the fact. Poverty re­duc­tion does not deal with the fact that there is a sys­temic in­equal­ity built into the econ­omy that re­quires a real re­dis­tribu­tive act on the part of the state to pro­tect the en­tire so­ci­ety. Poverty re­duc­tion alone al­lows for min­i­mum ser­vice stan­dards to the poor.”

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