Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Gov't's responsibility to the poor, vulnerable

Published:Thursday | September 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM

It's unfathomable that so many people think that Government has no responsibility to its poor and vulnerable citizens. It's uncanny that people could think that providing social assistance to those who require it - even though what is being provided is woefully insufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living - is helping to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and the behaviours associated (oftentimes wrongfully) with it. Can we really be that oblivious?

So many of us - even those of us who grew up poor, and, thankfully, made it in a system designed to hold the majority back - do not believe the Government ought to do more for its citizens. One wonders how those of us who are surviving or seemingly flourishing in prosperity can be so selfish.

What should be our concern is the fact that the support provided to the poor and vulnerable is so very inadequate. The fact that assistance is provided is a non-issue; the Government has an obligation to do so. Thankfully, they know this.

The National Development Plan - Vision 2030, acknowledges that the Government has a "clear role" in ensuring that "citizens who are unable to provide and care for themselves will be supported through the resources of the State and its partners". It outlines a wide range of government agencies, including the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Office of the Prime Minister, and Ministry of Finance that are responsible for mainstreaming poverty and vulnerability issues in all public policies, expanding opportunities for the poor to engage in sustainable livelihoods, and creating an enabling environment for persons with disabilities, among others. In fact, from as early as 1886, the Government enshrined its obligation to provide Jamaicans who are poor and vulnerable through the Poor Relief Law of 1886, which gives guidelines to parish councils on the kind of assistance that should be provided by the State.

The International Bill of Rights, which Jamaica has been party to since 1975, creates an obligation on the State to protect its vulnerable citizens. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." The Government must, therefore, "recognise the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance" as stipulated in the International Covenant on Economic Social & Cultural Rights (Article 9). It must also "take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right" and "shall take, individually and through international cooperation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed" to ensure the right to an adequate standard of living and to be free from hunger can be enjoyed by all its citizens as per the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11).




PATH - The Programme for Advancement through Health and Education - which is a widely celebrated initiative of our Government, is not even providing the bare minimum for the elderly, children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and people with disabilities to enjoy an adequate standard of living. Since October 2014, boys and girls who are beneficiaries receive $1,040 (grades one to six), $1,400 (grades seven to nine), and $1,600 (grades eight to thirteen) per month if they comply with the requirements of the pogramme to attend school 85 per cent of the time. Failure to do so means they only get the $400.

It's interesting to note that while some of us are complaining bitterly about Government providing handouts to people to encourage their behaviours, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommends that it needs a 'significant boost'. The Government only spends a measly 0.3 per cent of GDP of this programme, that's $42,018,000. The IMF, in its recent staff report, warned that the Government must ensure that its tax-reform policies do not have an adverse impact on the poor and vulnerable, and must, therefore, facilitate "inclusive and equitable growth will hinge on enhancing the framework for social protection".

I sincerely hope that more of us will challenge ourselves to recognise and appreciate the crucial role the Government has to play, and hold it accountable to providing support for poor and vulnerable to facilitate human capital development.

• Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to and