Hope on the islands to have a social minimum set for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the short term to help alleviate poverty was squashed during a plenary debate in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.
The current coalition parties Christian Democratic Party CDA, the Democratic Party D66 and the Christian Union (CU) are backtracking on their earlier support for the urgent mission to establish a social minimum, an important tool to eradicate poverty. The parties share the concerns of the opposition that something needs to be done about the persistent poverty on the islands, but they have more faith in taking concrete, short-term measures.
Two years ago, the vast majority of the Second Chamber, with the exception of the liberal democratic VVD party and the Party for Freedom PVV, backed a motion from Ronald van Raak (SP) and Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA in which the Dutch government was asked to research the cost of living on the islands and to establish a social minimum, the bare minimum that one needs to remain above the poverty line.
The urgency of the CDA, D66 and CU seems to have diminished now that they are part of the Dutch government coalition together with the VVD. The three parties recognise that poverty on the island is a major problem and still support establishing a social minimum, but not immediately, as the SP and the green left party GroenLinks are demanding.
Member of Parliament (MP) Van Raak accused the former opposition parties CDA, D66 and CU of “breaking their promise” and “leaving the people on the islands in the cold,” while Nevin Özütok of Groenlinks observed that there was “a lack of a sense of urgency” from the three parties.
In an effort to give the quest of the SP for a social minimum a boost, Van Raak submitted a motion on Wednesday, asking the Dutch government again to set a social minimum. The motion was co-signed by Özütok of GroenLinks. The plenary debate was a continuation of a meeting two weeks ago on the same topic.
Van Raak reminded the Second Chamber, State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops of the 2016 adopted motion. “We have had many reports. Half of my bookcase is filled with them. It is simple: the Second Chamber has asked for this and the government has to deliver. The objective should be to set a social minimum; one for Bonaire, one for Statia and one for Saba,” he said.
MP Joba van den Berg (CDA) came with an alternative: she filed a motion to ask the Dutch government to develop an integral multi-annual agreement with the three islands aimed at tackling poverty, improving the standard of living, investing in agriculture, energy and infrastructure, and to promote good governance and solid financial management.
Van den Berg agreed that it was important to make a sizable effort to improve the living conditions in the Caribbean Netherlands and to do so in a coordinated, structural manner. “We need to give the residents more perspective. Desperation is predominant, and many people live in deep poverty.”
MP Özütok filed her own separate motion to seek equal treatment for the islands in the implementation of regulations and legislation. “For GroenLinIcs, the social minimum is a human rights matter, a right that everyone in the Netherlands has.”
Özütok noted that the Netherlands has all sorts of social regulations, but that there are barely any to help residents living in poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands. “The Dutch Human Rights Council and the National Ombudsman have expressed concern about the poverty, the insufficient subsistence level, lack of affordable housing and inadequate protection against domestic violence. All these problems are related, and tackling these issues is a joint venture, and not only a matter of the island governments. We want an end to the inequality in our Kingdom,” she said.
MP Stieneke van der Graaf (CU) mentioned the high cost of living on the islands, the low wages and the poverty that many face. She said that the CU still wanted to work towards a social minimum, but that at the same time there was a need to lower the cost of living and invest in economic development.
Because she considered the Dutch government promise to look into further measures to alleviate poverty in 2020 “too late,” Van der Graaf tabled a motion asking the government to indicate next year what steps need to be taken to set a social minimum. “The Christian Union wants a social minimum and we have to work towards that in a progressive manner with concrete steps on the part of government.” D66, CDA, VVD and PvdA co-signed the motion.
MP Antje Diertens (D66) said she wanted to see more concrete action to make things better for the people in the Caribbean Netherlands. “I want to have this tempo in turbo.” She tabled two motions. One motion asked the Dutch government to make child care broadly accessible, to the benefit of children and their parents. The other motion sought to provide support to the Public Entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to help people get out of their debts. Diertens’ motions were co-signed by CDA, D66 and CU.
MP Andre Bosman (VVD) commended the Dutch government for taking concrete measures to alleviate poverty. “We are dealing with this in a pragmatic way,” he said, making a case to lower the cost of living by stimulating agriculture on the islands. He said the cooperation of the island governments was important in cultivating agricultural products.
State Secretary Van Ark remained steadfast in her answers to the Parliament: the Dutch government is taking concrete measures to tackle poverty and to raise the standard of living in the Caribbean Netherlands. “I consider it of great importance that things will improve for the people in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.”
However, setting a social minimum right at this moment was not possible, said Van Ark, who explained that this had to do with the variation in pricing and figures between the three islands. Instead, a number of measures are being taken to improve the standard of living.
The state secretary mentioned the increase of the legal minimum wage, raising the social security (“onderstand”) along with the child allowance (“kinderbijslag”) and making the special welfare (“bijzondere bijstand”) accessible. “I am busy executing the 2016 motion.”
Van Ark advised against Van Raak’s new motion to set a social minimum right away. This prompted Van Raak to ask her, as he had done during the debate two weeks ago, why she would not set a social minimum. “1 don’t think it is impossible to set a social minimum. I think the state secretary doesn’t want to,” he said.
Reacting to Diertens’ two motions, the state secretary said that she would provide support to the public entities in the area of child care, poverty and debt alleviation. The Second Chamber will vote on the motions next week Tuesday.
The Daily Herald.