More people on islands now on social welfare

About 14 per cent more people have become dependent on so­cial welfare (“onderstand”) in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba since the corona-virus crisis.

Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Bas van ‘t Wout stated in a letter to the Dutch Par­liament late last week that the number of persons in the Caribbean Netherlands who receive social welfare has increased from about 600 in January 2020 to close to 700 in September 2020.

“More and more people are becoming dependent on the safety net of social welfare. Also, because the unemployment allowance, as we have in the Nether­lands, does not exist on the islands. At the same time, the current level of social welfare is still 40 to 50 per cent under the benchmark for the social minimum,” stated Van `t Wout.

The state secretary noted that the social-economic situation in Bonaire, Statia and Saba has “deteriorated considerably” as a result of the corona crisis due to standstill of tourism. He remarked that the islands were already facing “great challenges” in the area of eradicating poverty.

Van ‘t Wout acknowl­edged that the current cri­sis showed that steps were needed at the income side of the benchmark for the social minimum. But, in order to increase the social welfare, the minimum wage needs to be increased to make sure that it remains attractive to work.

However, it doesn’t seem likely that during the cur­rent crisis, the business sector has the capacity to increase the minimum wage or is much inclined to do so. This is a dilemma, which Van ‘t Wout said he would be discussing shortly with the Executive Councils of Bonaire, Statia and Saba and with the Central Dialogue in Bonaire and Statia.

“Due to the possible nega­tive consequences for the economy and the labour market, the speed and the level of further increases of social welfare and the legal minimum wage need to be carefully weighed in light of the corona crisis.”

The income side is just one aspect of arriving at the benchmark for the social minimum. The other as­pect, a very important one, is the lowering of the cost of living, which is exceptional­ly high on the islands. The high cost of living results in poverty, not only among persons with a social allow­ance, but also among peo­ple holding a job, referred to as the “working poor.”

The state secretary ac­knowledged that in order to arrive at a social minimum, the cost of living and the income of Caribbean Neth­erlands’ residents need to become balanced. The difference between the in­comes and the cost of living needs to be reduced, and to ultimately disappear.

A survey of the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), based on figures of 2018, showed that 29 per cent of the households in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands has a disposable income that was lower than the social mini­mum benchmark.

It was noted that the CBS figures didn’t include the effect of the coronavirus support that the Dutch gov­ernment has been provid­ing, nor the impact of the pandemic. “At the same time, the figures confirm the necessity of the input of the Dutch government to improve the socioeco­nomic security over the full range.”

The state secretary prom­ised that in the coming years, the government, in consultation with the pub­lic entities and Central Dia­logues, would keep working on improving the situation. “The objective is and re­mains to reduce the costs to a reasonable level so a situation evolves whereby all Caribbean Netherlands residents can sustain in the minimum costs of the price of living.”

Every year, per January 1, the minimum wage and the social allowances are adapted with the consumer price index per island. This year, the prices of con­sumer goods and services on the islands decreased, mostly due to the higher subsidy of electricity, water and internet since May 1.

Even though the prices went down, the social al­lowances and minimum wage will not be adjusted downward, because it would contribute to pov­erty. The child allowance is an exception: this will be increased by 2.4 per cent.

The Daily Herald.

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One comment

  1. It’s not as difficult as mr. Van ‘t Wout states. There are more possibilities to support:
    * the people who depend on welfare, that is (in his words): 40-50 percent below the social minimum;
    * the people who earn minimum wages that are also below this social minimum.

    Thinking out-of-the-box is necessary. These people cannot wait till this gordian knot of intertwined rules and laws is loosened. Discussions in yet more gremia or the normal Dutch approach ‘a commission’ will not bring solutions closer.

    If not on the income site, fast solution or relief is possible on the cost site.

    There are 12.000 households in Caribbean Netherlands. 29% is below the social minimum, or 3.480 households.
    Subsidize the costs of living till above the level of the social minimum, or preferably till the Dutch bijstandsuitkering level is possible and if the apparatus works together well, it could be accomplished fast.
    Fast support measures have been taken in European Netherlands, so why not here?

    And the total cost of this? Maybe in one year: 6 pro mille of the amount of the dutch corona bonuses. And that is for 3 islands, about 3500 households.

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