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Jaevion Nelson: Poverty eradication needs more than lip service

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2016 | 1:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

Jamaica's National Development Plan - Vision 2030 - ambitiously sets out to make the economy prosperous and ensure that we are all empowered to achieve our fullest potential in the next 14 years. Already, the current economic reform programme is reaping tremendous results - our stock exchange was the top-performing index among 92 markets monitored by Bloomberg; the economy grew by 1.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2015; and GDP is expected to rise by 2.7 per cent in financial year 2020-21, or by 4.5 per cent if the Government leverages the successes of its reform programme and there are 'higher rates of public investment' (World Bank Group).

However, despite these commendable achievements and 'impressive progress in macroeconomic stabilisation and fiscal consolidation', the World Bank Group's latest economic update, 'Laying the Foundation for Growth and Debt Sustainability', highlights that poverty, which at the end of 2012 is at a high of 19.9 per cent will only decline to 16.6 per cent by 2020-21. Jamaicans have been experiencing a steady increase in poverty over the last few years despite much talk and initiatives to improve our livelihood. In 2007, poverty was 9.9 per cent and by 2010, during the time of the global financial crisis, it rose to a high of 17.6 per cent.

A Jamaica Observer report on January 4, 2016, titled 'Living on $300 a day', reminds us of the stark realities of the people our politicians talk about helping and doing more for the most. Can you imagine if they didn't talk about them at all? The article highlights the depravity and extreme poverty many Jamaicans, particularly women and children, are living in. It's telling that the report didn't point to the usually higher levels of unemployment and poverty women and children typically experience. A 2009 study conducted by Witter, et al, found that child poverty was as high as 41 per cent.

The poverty rate used in the World Bank Group report is based on the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions calculation as the share of the population whose consumption spending falls below the threshold determined by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica as needed to maintain an acceptable standard of living. In 2012, this was J$143,687 per person and J$543,059 for a representative family of five. 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, which coincidentally the women in the Jamaica Observer article would not be living in, if they had no children.

 

VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM

People who are poor are laden with the more than generous reference to their poverty by our leaders. The numbers point to a very serious problem which requires much more than lip service, jabs on political platforms and well-written policies and strategies which are never or only partially implemented.

The Social Development Commission's community profile on Tivoli Gardens, where 10,094 people live in 2,884 households with 64 per cent of them headed by a female, reveals that only 48.2 per cent of the labour force there is employed. Fifty-nine per cent of people in Tivoli Gardens are 24 years and younger (13 per cent between 15 and 19 years). A mere 14.3 per cent of household heads have post-secondary qualifications and only 59 per cent have someone enrolled in a school. 76.4 per cent of household heads there have no academic qualification though 59.9 per cent attained secondary education.

Their opportunity for employment is therefore limited. The majority of household heads in Tivoli Gardens are employed as shop and market sales workers and service workers, and in elementary occupations. According to the International Labour Organisation, "Elementary occupations consist of simple and routine tasks which mainly require the use of handheld tools and often some physical effort."

Is it not frightening that some of our most senior, respected and/or celebrated politicians preside over some of the poorest communities and constituencies? What is the logic in applauding a woman or man for their political prowess when the people who elected her/him continue to go to bed and their children to school hungry?

We must demand that our politicians 'walk the talk' to enable their constituents to truly have an opportunity to improve their livelihood and enjoy the growth and development taking place. The current projections for a decline in poverty are a cause for concern.

Let's end the lip service about poverty.

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