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Poverty rises - Capital sees bump in number of persons falling on hard times after years of decline, rural areas record small dip

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

The number of Jamaicans living in poverty climbed to a shade above 19 per cent in 2017, a document released by the Government has revealed.

Ministry Paper 51, which was tabled in the Senate yesterday, indicated that 19.3 per cent of the Jamaican population was living below the poverty line.

This is 2.2 percentage points higher than the 17.1 per cent recorded for 2016.

The figures were included in a report drafted by the finance ministry using data from the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions.

According to the document, the increase was fuelled by a 5.2 percentage point spike in poverty in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA).

“The report also informed that the KMA, after recording declines for four consecutive years, registered the largest increase in poverty, reflecting a decline in mean per capita consumption in real terms by 30 per cent,” the ministry paper said.

Poverty in other towns climbed by 4.1 percentage point, the second straight year it went up, “which worsened the standard of living in that region”.

Overall, the poverty rate for the KMA was 17.1 per cent and 20.1 per cent for other towns.

For rural areas, the number of persons living in poverty remained relatively flat, inching down from 20.5 per cent in 2016 to 20.1 per cent the following year.

“The measures introduced by the Government assisted in curtailing an increase in the poverty rate [for those areas],” the document noted.

Opposition senators used the figures to ridicule their government colleagues. The governing Jamaica Labour Party campaigned on the theme ‘From Poverty to Prosperity’ in the lead-up to the 2016 general election.

Damion Crawford said the disclosures in the ministry paper translate to “521,000 Jamaicans living on $250 a day”.

“It means that for three meals a day, they have less than $100 for each meal. It is no wonder JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company) continues to say people thiefing light. It’s no wonder [the National] Water Commission continues to say they are losing how much water,” Crawford said.

“If you promise prosperity, you ought not to be giving the people poverty,” his colleague, Lambert Brown, said.

Government Senator Aubyn Hill quickly fired back, saying that the administration had “nothing to be ashamed about”.

He said that not only was Jamaica’s unemployment rate at historic lows, but that billions of dollars had been pumped into the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education for the current fiscal year “to take care of those persons who might be having a little difficulty”.

“We understand that poverty exists [and] we are doing everything we possibly can to employ people and to make sure we give them a safety net,” he said to loud applause from his colleagues.

The report, which has been reviewed by Cabinet, noted that the overall increase in poverty came against the backdrop of a one per cent growth in the economy and the addition of 26,200 jobs in July 2017.