Implement policy on poverty alleviation immediately
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.
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.”