Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Who will speak up for the poor?

Published:Saturday | October 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Politicians, those in Parliament especially, are too cavalier about the livelihood and well-being of the Jamaican people. Sadly, despite the plethora of challenges faced by the poor and vulnerable, there is nary a concern about the state of affairs in our country.

Instead, politicians are all too preoccupied oiling their electioneering machinery, posturing as the most caring, charismatic, and legitimate to make people's lives better, though the evidence (often?) suggests otherwise.

Two critical issues related to our well-being and development, which are yet to be discussed properly, came up recently. First, it was revealed that based on data from the latest Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, 593,600 Jamaicans were poor at the end of 2015. It means that poverty increased to 21.2 per cent, up from 20 per cent in 2014. In 2013, the poverty rate was 24.6 per cent.

We also found out that contrary to earlier reports that the economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of the 2017-2018 financial year (i.e., April to June), the economy actually contracted by 0.1 per cent. I don't think this is particularly significant statistically, but we cannot afford this kind of bad news at this time given the state of our economy.

It is terrifying to think these two issues have not been able to get the kind of attention they deserve from our parliamentarians who have been entrusted with the responsibility and are obligated to make our lives and the country better.

I can't quite fathom how this has not been discussed within the context of the by-elections in three constituencies where a significant number of people who are poor live, work and learn. The media ought not to abdicate their responsibilities at this time. And they most certainly should not allow themselves to be easily distracted.

 

DEAFENING SILENCE

 

I sincerely hope that they will help us ask the right questions so we know how they plan to get us out of this economic mess. The deafening silence among my colleagues in civil society who profess a moral obligation to be the voice of the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalised in our country, is equally frightening.

The increase in poverty concerns me greatly. It is rather unfortunate that one can hardly point to a policy or programme that will truly deliver results for the poor and vulnerable of this country.

On top of that, the (new) National Poverty Policy does very little to convince me that we understand the gravity of the issues faced by our people and are aware of the kinds of actions required to improve their situation and take them out of poverty. The National Social Protection Strategy is equally worrying.

We need politicians who are pro-poor, who are sensitive to the needs, realities and concerns of the poor and will be resolute in their advocacy and representation to make their lives better. Sadly, too many of our parliamentarians spend most of their time heckling than being actual advocates. Do they not realise that 593,600 people are depending on their sobriety, on their voice, on their willingness to stand up for them?

As I said earlier this year, in an article in The Gleaner titled 'Poverty eradication needs more than lip service', "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."

We cannot continue to be so nonchalant about these critical issues. We cannot continue to allow politicians to fiddle with our lives while we suffer. We cannot continue to shower them with such unwavering support though our meaningful development is the least of their concerns. We cannot continue to shield them from criticisms and being held accountable.

We have to demand more from them, whether they are our friend or foe, or they wear green or orange blinkers. We ought to care more about our well-being, especially that of the poor and vulnerable among us, and be serious about it. Let us demand economic justice and empowerment for the poor and vulnerable.

- Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, economic and social justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com, or tweet @jaevionn.