Saba says swift, added measures are needed for true social improvement

The Saba government has called the approach of the Dutch government to tackle poverty and raise people’s income in the Caribbean Netherlands a “step in the right direction,” but says quick, additional actions are needed to make things better for the people.

The recent research report for a benchmark social minimum in the Caribbean Netherlands has shown that a large part of the population of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba cannot survive on their income, and that vulnerable groups living off social security and a government pension are even worse off.

For many people, also those who have a job, their income is too low in comparison to the high cost of living on the islands. People resort to survival strategies by accumulating debt, having multiple generations living under one roof and adopting unhealthy eating habits.

In a letter the Saba Executive Council sent to State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops, it was pointed out that 36 per cent of the 700 households have less than 75 per cent of the necessary income to survive, while 43 per cent of the households have less than 90 per cent of the needed income.

The Saba government complimented the Dutch government for taking concrete steps to improve people’s lives, but added that more, swift action was still needed. “People look towards our local representatives to solve the poverty issue, while largely it is not their authority to do so. The Dutch government can make the difference.”

According to the Executive Council, poverty alleviation on the islands is an urgent issue and needs to remain high on the agenda of politicians, governments and civil servants. Today, Thursday, the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will have a debate with State Secretaries Van Ark and Knops about establishing a social minimum for the islands.

The Dutch government has remained evasive about setting a social minimum and, in a reaction to the research report, the term “a dot on the horizon” was used, much to the chagrin of the opposition parties in the First and Second Chambers which are demanding immediate commitment of the Dutch government.

In its letter to the state secretaries, Saba’s Executive Council observed that the Dutch government had not clearly opted to establish a social minimum step by step and with the input of the islands. “We see too many [possible – Ed.] measures going into effect per 2020 or later.”

It was also observed that a number of measures for small, specific vulnerable groups appeared more substantial than they actually are when considering what is needed to live a decent life. “More is needed if we really want to do something for the vulnerable groups.”

Furthermore, too little is being done for the large group that are having a hard time, including the people who work but cannot manage on their salary. “Bringing down the cost of living is not happening and it is unclear if this will happen. The Dutch government and the public entities need to get the basis in order if we are to effectively tackle the poverty issue,” it was stated in the letter.

Saba is seeking attention for a number of areas. These include: increasing the income of the most vulnerable groups to an acceptable level, speeding up the execution of measures to improve the standard of living through transition measures that start early 2019 instead of 2020 and beyond, setting a social minimum towards which the governments can work jointly, and lowering the employer’s premium so the local government can discuss an increase of the legal minimum wage.

The latter is an important instrument to do something positive for the large group of low-income earners, also referred to as the “working poor.”
The lowering of expenses is another area that requires attention: reduction in the prices of water, electricity and telecommunications, lower cost of housing and lower food prices in supermarkets.

Saba further wants to create a more vital economy and local labour market by reducing the cost of doing business; lowering air transport prices to and from St. Maarten; supporting the local labour market issue, which requires extra effort; and facilitating labour participation through good and affordable child care facilities.

In the area of government, Saba is asking the Dutch government to equip the public entity structurally with additional means to, among other things, eradicate poverty. Poverty eradication and assisting people with debt problems should become a task of the island government.

Saba also proposes to jointly draft and execute a concise socio-economic agenda to which the Ministry of Social Affairs and other ministries will contribute, and with clear priorities and timeframes. Furthermore, Saba would like to see the transfer of a number of tasks of the National Government Service Caribbean Netherlands RCN to the public entity.

These intentions should be part of an agreement, the “Saba Package,” between the Dutch government and the public entity. Saba would like to see the intentions in the Dutch government reaction to the research report on the social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands formulated more thoroughly with clear goals, desired results, financial coverage and quick, effective execution.

Saba is very content with the cooperation with the Dutch housing corporation Woonlinie which will start before the end of this year with the construction of 18 new homes in the social sector. Measures to make the rents more affordable are very welcome, as the cost of housing is a major factor in the cost of living.

The Daily Herald.

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