The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday showed its commitment to fight poverty in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba with two motions to introduce the family bound budget (“kindgebonden budget”) and implement a decent social minimum.
Poverty on the islands has been a source of concern of the Second Chamber, but also the First Chamber. Some 50 per cent of the population lives on or under the poverty line in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Several parties, including the Labour Party PvdA, Socialist Party (SP), the Christian Democratic Party CDA, the Democratic Party D66, the green left party GroenLinks and the ChristianUnion (CU) have been clamouring for measures to alleviate the position of the deprived.
In June 2016, the Senate almost unanimously adopted a motion that requested the Dutch Government to set a social minimum for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba based on benchmarks for the basic means of livelihood, meaning the amount that people need to survive on and pay their bills.
In the Second Chamber earlier this week, during the plenary handling of the 2017 draft budget Kingdom Relations, several parties again brought up the need for setting a social minimum that was realistic in comparison to the cost of living.
Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk explained that State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Jetta Klijnsma had started the trajectory to link the social minimum to the minimum wage. After this decision has been taken, the social welfare (“onderstand”) will be increased in two steps.
Member of the Second Chamber Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) was not satisfied with that answer. He said that after the increase, the “onderstand” would still be insufficient to cover people’s basic needs and urged the minister to secure a decent minimum wage and social welfare.
Van Raak submitted a motion with his colleague Roelof van Laar of the PvdA requesting the Dutch Government “not to call the increased onderstand a social minimum and to set a social minimum based on the cost of living.
“The level of poverty on the islands is unacceptable for us. People have a right to a social minimum that is based on the cost of living,” Van Raak motivated the motion. Van Laar stated: “If you can only buy food or pay your house rent from a social minimum, then that is not truly a social minimum.”
Van Laar submitted a separate motion, together with Van Raak, Carola Schouten (CU), Mustafa Amhaouch (CDA) and Alexander Pechtold (D66), requesting the Dutch Government to look into the possibility to introduce a family bound budget, a special allowance for deprived families with children and to analyse the bottlenecks and cost of this system.
The motion took into consideration that single parents in the Caribbean Netherlands working fulltime and earning minimum wage didn’t have a liveable income and that many children grew up in this situation. According to the motion, it should not be allowed that children grow up in a family without a liveable income.
The family bound budget would be an alternative to the quadrupling of the children’s allowance that Van Laar had asked for, a step that the Dutch Government at this time is not willing to take because it would not be conducive and also because it would be paid to well-off parents.
According to Van Laar, the funds that the Dutch Government spends on the islands to combat poverty were not sufficiently visible and effective. He reminded Minister Plasterk that the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee, chaired by former Minister Liesbeth Spies, had concluded in its October 2015 report that poverty had increased over the past years.
Plasterk stated that the investments made by the Dutch ministries in the economic development and infrastructure indirectly contributed to a better standard of living and subsequently to the combating of poverty.
Responding to the appeal of Amhaouch to secure funds for the exploitation of infrastructural projects financed by the Dutch Ministries, Plasterk promised to have this matter discussed at the next consultation with the islands at the so-called Caribbean Netherlands Table, under the motto “No investment without exploitation.”
The Minister agreed with Amhaouch that the exploitation cost in principle should be included in the investment projects, but noted that it was up to the individual ministries to decide on this. He said he would point out to his fellow ministers that it was important to include the exploitation cost in a project.
During the handling of the Kingdom Relations budget on Tuesday, Amhaouch had pointed out that the recycling plant in St. Eustatius had not been operational for a year due to the lack of funds for its exploitation.
On Thursday, Pechtold added the islands’ airport runways as an example. He said that in the past new lights had been installed at the runways, but there was no money to replace the bulbs. Amhaouch asked the Minister to also take the backlog in maintenance into consideration to help the economic development of the islands.
The Daily Herald.