Opinion: State Secretay is inconsistent for benchmarking Social Minimum BES

Since the BES islands were included as special municipalities in the country of the Netherlands on 10-10-10, the policy of the Netherlands excels in measuring with two measures. A poignant example of this is the hassle around a social minimum for the BES islands. The successive government teams postponed setting this social minimum for as long as possible. Under increasing pressure from parliament, the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment has now taken
an important step in the fight against poverty in the Caribbean part of the Netherlands. That step can be read in the letter with the Progress Report on the Social Security of the Caribbean Netherlands that State Secretary Tamara van Ark sent to the Second Chamber on 27 June.

After nine years, a benchmark for a social minimum has finally been established. This is a step over a psychological threshold for the Dutch government, the significance of which should not be underestimated. But to come to that, it was apparently necessary to establish this benchmark fundamentally differently from the social minimum in the European Netherlands.

After the introduction of the Linking Act in the 1980s, the minimum wage (now € 1,637 per month) is the benchmark for the social minimum in the Netherlands. Since the 1960s, the minimum wage has been “a socially acceptable consideration
for the work performed that can provide for basic necessities” ¹). With the social minimum, which is set at 100% of the minimum wage, the living expenses of two people are covered ²). The social minimum for a single person is derived from this (approximately 70% of the minimum wage).

Because the minimum wage on the BES islands is far too low to cover the cost of living, the parliament asked for a social minimum based on the cost of living on those islands (in the 60s this was also the starting point in the Netherlands for the
setting of the minimum wage). The minimum costs for a two-person household on Bonaire were calculated by an independent research agency in 2018 at $ 1,835 per month. The State Secretary has corrected for price increases to an amount of $ 1,922 in 2019.

If it had been measured with European Dutch standards, the benchmark for the social minimum for Bonaire would therefore have been set at $ 1,922 per month. The Secretary of State comes with different standards for a monthly amount of $ 945. A comparatively lower amount has been set for the other islands.

The minimum wage may, in the long run, be higher than the benchmark, but how much higher still needs to be determined. For the time being, the policy-based increase of the minimum wage on St. Eustatius in 2020 will be limited to 2% because in 2019 it will already be $ 63 higher than the benchmark set for this island by the State Secretary.

The State Secretary comes to the considerably lower benchmark by approaching the social minimum for the BES islands fundamentally differently from the European Netherlands on four points. For Bonaire, below (in brackets) it is made clear what reduction that yields compared to a social minimum calculated according to European Dutch standards. A similar arrangement can be made for the other islands.

  1. The social minimum benchmark in the Netherlands is aimed at one person working in a two-person household. The benchmark for the BES islands is aimed at a single person (- $ 502) who also does not work (- $ 81).

  2. The budget for the social minimum in the Netherlands also includes the costs of relaxation and social participation ³). In the Netherlands, it is not considered acceptable to exclude these expenses when the social minimum is set. They have
    been included in the budget to prevent social exclusion. For the BES islands, however, the State Secretary opts to remove the costs of relaxation and social participation – if not necessary – from the budget (- $ 47). The State Secretary therefore implies that social exclusion of minima on the BES islands is socially acceptable.

  3. The budget for the social minimum in the Netherlands also includes the costs of heating the home. On Bonaire, the expenses for cooling the home are comparable. That is why an amount for minimum costs of air conditioning has been included in the preparation of the cost of living for Bonaire. A few hours a day 1 air conditioner costs $ 87 per month in prices of 2019. The State Secretary reduces that amount to $ 36 (- $ 51). The State Secretary thus implies that three days a week cooling a home is enough for social minimums on Bonaire.

  4. In the Netherlands, the social minimum is based on actual costs of living. For the BES islands, the State Secretary takes a benchmark that is lower than the actual cost amount. For single people or couples without children, that lower amount must be achieved by introducing a rental contribution for private homes in the future on an undefined date (- $ 294). Whether and, if so, how that contribution will be made depends on the results of a pilot project that will be started on Saba in 2020.

The key question is whether the parliament agrees with this measurement with two measures.

Wietze Koopman,

¹) source: https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-34573-3.html
²) source: https://www.uwv.nl/particulieren/bedragen/
³) source: https://digitaal.scp.nl/armoedei…/waar-ligt-de-armoedegrens

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