Broad support lacking to set social minimum now

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.

From left: State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops during the September 12 meeting about setting a social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands. (Suzanne Koelega photo)

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.

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