Seven measures to improve the safety net for the poor
While the proposed removal of the GCT exemption on most consumer goods will have some impact on the poor, there are some immediate actions in relation to the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) that can be taken to compensate poorer households.
1 PATH benefits should be extended beyond the present almost 390,000 individuals (120,000 households) to the other 150,000 (46,150 households) making it approximately 540,000 in all, or 20 per cent of the population.
2 PATH benefits should be increased beyond the present range of $750 to $1,265 (according to category) by an amount sufficient to compensate beneficiaries for the estimated net additional cost occasioned by the removal of GCT exemptions.
3 Consider increasing the PATH payment frequency to a monthly basis (from the current bimonthly schedule).
4 Develop a partnership with the financial sector (primarily banks and credit unions) designed to extend, as far as possible, the use of debit cards (currently usage is around 40 per cent), with little or no usage fees, as the primary means of delivering payments of cash to eligible PATH beneficiaries.
5 Institute a public-education programme to dispel the notion, in the process of PATH qualification, that having a fridge or gas stove, etc, serves to automatically exclude applicants.
6 The frequency with which qualifying children of PATH participants receive free school lunches should be increased from three days per week to five days per week. The Ministry of Education should immediately move to reform the delivery system of these lunches so that PATH participants are not stigmatised by, for example, the issuance of lunch tickets which by their colour clearly identifies PATH participants, requires them to join a separate queue to receive their lunches, and generally sets them apart from the rest of the school population.
7 In addition, a breakfast programme for needy children should be instituted. Not only would this improve learning outcomes, but it would also ease the pressure on all poor families affected by the removal of GCT exemptions from basic foods and items of hygiene. Thus, it would benefit both PATH recipients and the 540,000 persons just above the poverty line, whose children would qualify for the breakfast.
These measures are by no means exhaustive and merely targets one mechanism of the intervention framework available in our society.
However, in every society there is need for the Government to recognise that not everyone is capable of earning in a manner that will afford them a standard of living that can be called human.
An acceptable standard of living for one is not the same for another. In Jamaica, the growing disparity among persons is becoming more and more acute. The simple truth is that many of our people have become and are becoming at risk.
While successive administrations have tried to do something to help the poor, in many instances this has been driven not by a true concern for the poor, but as a means of controlling and determining support.
Not good enough
It is no wonder that promises of social intervention are given at times when voting is critical. This is by no means good enough for our people and the time is right for all of Jamaica to raise a cry that those who seek to serve must hear.
This cry must be for a system of government, of justice, of industry, of commerce and for a social network that is truly caring for all classes of Jamaicans.
The working and poorer classes are in need of care and deserve a social infrastructure that protects their interests and welfare.
The nation must also be properly educated as to the true cost of social services and not be told that things are merely free, like education and health. Does the average parent know what it costs to educate one child at the primary or secondary level?
If we are to pay greater attention to education, then we will, in effect, be building greater human capital. A more educated and socially conscious person is a more productive citizen and less of a drain on the public purse.
There must be an end to selfish, political agendas. At the end of the day, what is good for this nation must be good for anyone who seeks to be a public servant. Proper stewardship must become the new paradigm.