The Netherlands Human Rights Council has warned against an increasing fatalism among the poorer segment of the population of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Concrete action of the Dutch government is needed to improve the standard of living on the islands and to raise the social minimum.
“People who are not well off financially are deeply disappointed,” said Member of the Human Rights Council Dick Houtzager in a meeting on Tuesday with members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.
Houtzager noted that people had hoped for things to get better when the islands became part of the Netherlands in October 2010. “Unfortunately, that has not been the case. This has resulted in a sort of fatalism. The resilience is gone. Hope has been crushed,” he said. Tuesday’s meeting served as preparation for a debate the Kingdom Relations Committee will have with State Secretary of Social Affairs Tamara van Ark and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Thursday about the social minimum in the Caribbean Netherlands.
There is a big gap between the Caribbean Netherlands and the Netherlands in areas such as employment, income, poverty eradication and children’s rights. According to the Human Rights Council, concrete action from the side of the Dutch government is needed, including the establishing of a social minimum, the bare minimum amount that one needs to live a decent life.
In the Council’s opinion, the cost of living, which is high on the islands, needs to be included in the establishing of the social minimum. Based on this social minimum, the Dutch government should adjust the social welfare upwards and incorporate the cost of living, said Council member Houtzager.
However, these steps are not enough, said Houtzager. “That is too limited. An integral, broad approach is needed with more economic incentives to create employment. The Dutch government needs to revive the resilience of the people, give them prospects.”
According to Houtzager, positive attention and concrete action are needed to improve the living conditions of the people on the three islands, almost half of whom live below the poverty line. “People need more than a dot on the horizon,” he said, referring to the response by the Dutch government to the findings of the social minimum study that was released this summer. About the inadequate action on The Hague’s part to raise the social welfare and improve the standard of living on the islands, Houtzager said: “It seems there is insufficient political will to pay for this. It hampers the process to get this done.” Houtzager mentioned the lack of affordable (social) housing as one of the factors that contributed to poverty. Generally, there is not enough low-income housing. Some people are lucky enough to have a low-rent home provided by a social housing foundation. But others are not and have to pay high rent in the commercial rental sector, while waiting for a long time to get social housing.
As a result, oftentimes several families live under one roof to be able to cover the high rent, Houtzagcr explained. This leads to problems such as domestic violence, abuse, the absence of a quiet room where the children can do their homework and health-related issues. “We are concerned about the human rights situation on the islands. Poverty is acute. Postponing the introduction of a social minimum is no longer acceptable,” he said.
The Daily Herald.