Public entities’ social welfare higher again

The social welfare “onderstand” in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba has been increased per March 1, 2017, and is now 40 per cent of the legal minimum wage. Also, independent research will be carried out this year to establish the cost of bare essentials on the islands.

Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Jetta Klijnsma announced these two developments in a letter to the First and Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament late last week.The commitments were the result of a meeting that she had with the First Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations KOREL early December last year.

In her letter, Klijnsma reported on the recent working conferences in Bonaire and Saba to discuss establishing of a benchmark for a social minimum in a broader social agenda for the Caribbean Netherlands. In consultation with the St. Eustatius Executive Council, the conference will take place there at a later stage, “if possible,” she stated.

The level of the social welfare “onderstand” was an important subject at the conferences in Bonaire and Saba. According to Klijnsma, the participants agreed that it was “undesirable” to maintain the current level of social welfare since it was too low in comparison to the minimum wage.

“That is why per March 1, 2017, the meaningful step was taken to raise the social welfare,” stated Klijnsma, who announced that the allowance will be increased to US $185 per two weeks in St. Eustatius, US $181 per two weeks in Saba and US $151 per two weeks in Bonaire. The Ministerial Decree to this extent has been published in the National Gazette.

The basic amount of the “onderstand” has increased from 24 per cent to 40 per cent of the legal minimum wage, which means that these are now more in sync. Also, several allowances are available, depending on the situation of the individual person. These allowances relate to the housing and family situation of the person.

The additional allowance for (disabled) persons who have been fully declared unfit for labour “arbeidsongeschikt” will be corrected because this allowance should be kept to a level close to the old age pension AOV.

The delegations of Bonaire and Saba sought attention for the income position of disabled persons living off social welfare and those receiving AOV during the conferences. It was agreed that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour SZW and the Executive Councils would continue to seek “suitable provisions” for these specific groups. “Custom fit measures are needed to reach these groups,” stated Klijnsma.

In line with the desire of the First and Second Chamber to guarantee the social subsistence and to eradicate poverty, it was decided that it is important to have objective data to determine the subsistence minimum or the cost of the bare essentials such as food, clothing, housing and transport.

The SZW Ministry will set up a research proposal in consultation with the Executive Councils within short. The social minimum research for the Caribbean Netherlands should be ready next year.

The speed depends on the desires of the Executive Councils and the planning of the research bureaus. “Solid research is needed because at this moment there is only the 2014 Nibud report which was developed for a different reason and which was only executed in Bonaire,” stated Klijnsma.

During the working conference in Bonaire it was “jointly concluded” that the to-be-established benchmark for social subsistence or the poverty threshold would not immediately become the level on which social allowances are to be based.

“A benchmark for subsistence minimum will function as a dot on the horizon towards which we will work and as a reference point for possibly specific measures. The reference point can be changed if certain expenses increase or decrease in the future,” according to the State Secretary.

Klijnsma explained that the various ministries were already taking measures to reduce poverty and to improve the social development of the islands. Better social housing is one of these measures. Also, research is being done into the development of prices since the islands became Dutch public entities in 2010.

The State Secretary further mentioned the measures that were taken in the past years such as the gradual increase of the minimum wage, the introduction of the childcare benefit “kinderbijslag” and the structural funds to improve children’s rights on the islands.

Plans for the future include further increase of the legal minimum wage, improvement of the functioning of the labour market, professionalising of the job placement and having the flanking social policy more suitable to the local context.

All these subjects will be part of the social-economic agenda that I will work on with the islands which should be ready by this summer. Today, Tuesday, the First Chamber will discuss the State Secretary’s letter in a meeting.

The Daily Herald.

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