Increases in social support fall short of reality on Saba

Responding to the announced increases in social support for residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, Commissioner of Social Affairs Rolando Wilson said the increase would still not be enough for those residents on Saba who are most in need.

From March 1, social support on Saba will increase from US $72 to $181 bi-weekly. State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Jetta Klijnsma announced this during the recent work conference on social security in Bonaire.

Commissioner Wilson said that while after 10-10-10 the emphasis was put on the implementation of various tax laws and the expansion of the local police department, no practical emphasis has been placed on the social issues the islands face daily.

“I feel the increase still needs to be revised. I have people coming to me crying. They are collecting about US $600 from the [old age pension – Ed.] AOV and they have to pay their electrical bills, cable, food, et cetera. You see them go to the shops picking up stuff, but then they have to put it back because it costs too much. The cost of living on Saba is very high,” Wilson told Caribisch Netwerk news website.

For example, he said, a rent subsidy is needed for families living in social homes. “There is a backlog at the Housing Foundation because persons can’t afford to pay their rent. We asked the Dutch Government for assistance in this area, but they said the local government would have to offer such assistance. The government is nonetheless able to assist in home repair.”

During the Bonaire summit, the Dutch parliamentary delegation expressed their support for setting up a special provision for persons in Bonaire, Statia and Saba.

Island Council Member Vito Charles thinks the application of the Social Support Law (Wet maatschappelijke ondersteuning Wmo) would be a good idea for Saba. “It means that the local institutions have the opportunity to help those most in need. The local government knows who needs help more than others.”

Council Member Monique Wilson also thinks the introduction of the Support Law would be a good idea for Saba. She thinks, however, that Holland needs to get a better understanding of the actual situation on Saba. “A lot of the actual costs for locals are not being factored in.”

Wilson challenged Dutch politicians to actually live as a Saban for a day and experience the real situation. “They cannot only rely on the [Central Bureau for Statistics – Ed.] CBS research and reports, because somehow the results of these reports are not always realistic,” she said.

“Sometimes I think the message gets diluted, because there are many civil servants that have to carry the message back to The Hague, and sometimes they filter it the way they see things. Everything is managed in The Hague, so if you don’t feel it you don’t know it,” said Charles.

“It’s hard to see poverty on Saba, but we know it’s there. But if we look at places like Statia and Bonaire it’s more obvious. So the question is; why is Holland not seeing that the islands need more help in this area. There is the perception that we should be happy with what we receive, because we receive so much, but again if the right people are not being targeted it doesn’t make sense,” Charles commented.

Saba’s representatives at the summit communicated to Commissioner Wilson that the Dutch Parliament First and Second Chambers are surprised that the islands still face many social difficulties.

Wilson, however, said that at this point it should be more than obvious that social affairs remain a challenge, considering the many studies and information gathered on the topic. “Holland needs to stop the bureaucracy,” said the Commissioner.

Charles said when the Island Council met with the Second Chamber in the Netherlands last year they expressed the urgency of certain increases in social premiums. “We believe without this more people will fall into poverty, as those that are at the poverty line are running the risk of falling into poverty.”

Charles noted that it was indicated to them at the time that more information was needed before appropriate increases could be made. “The Island Council feels a social minimum needs to be established, because it doesn’t make sense to increase minimum wages and pensions if you don’t know where the threshold is. We believe as a government that on an island like Saba people should be able to thrive and not just survive.”

The Department of Social Affairs and Labour recently announced an increase in the minimum wage by $0.31. It was $5.37 in 2016, now it is $5.68.

In January 2016 Klijnsma announced that the minimum wage would be increased by 20 per cent in 2017 subsequent to the initial discussions about an increase following 10-10-10.

Commissioner Wilson pointed out that such an increase is still not sufficient when, for example, parents are forced to work three jobs to cover their basic expenditures. “There are people holding three jobs to survive. It is not right, because they don’t have time for themselves or their children.

In finding means to help such families, the Saba Government is planning to offer budgetary courses for those families that may have trouble organizing their finances.

The Daily Herald.

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