MP Kuiken seeks clarity on Ombudsman poverty report

Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament At­tje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA is seeking clar­ity from the Dutch gov­ernment on the alarming report of the National Om­budsman about the severe poverty situation of many elderly persons in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands.

Kuiken submitted written questions to State Secre­tary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ray­mond Knops and State Sec­retary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark on Wednesday, a day after the publication of the National Ombudsman report titled: “Focus on the elderly in the Caribbean Netherlands.” The findings of the report were not only published by the media on the islands, but the matter also caught the attention of the Dutch media. National broadcast­ing company NOS carried a story with the headline: “Hundreds of elderly people in the Caribbean barely have food.” RTL News had an article with a similar head­line: “Hundreds of Carib­bean Netherlands residents live in severe poverty.”

Dutch MP Attje Kuiken speaking with a resident during a visit to the home for the elderly in The Bottom, Saba, in January this year.

The Member of Parliament (MP) asked the state secre­taries whether they agreed with her that the living cir­cumstances of the elderly persons as described in the report were “distressing and unacceptable”. She asked whether the state secretar­ies would get in touch with the National Ombudsman to discuss his report, and whether they would take over the recommendations and when this would hap­pen.

Kuiken wanted to know how the elderly pension re­lated to the living conditions of some 2,500 elderly per­sons in the Caribbean Neth­erlands mentioned in the Ombudsman report, also considering the fact that the Dutch government has set a benchmark amount for a so­cial minimum for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The MP asked the state secretaries what measures they would be taking in the short term to improve the living conditions of the el­derly persons on the three islands, which are public entities of the Netherlands. “Will you also research pov­erty among children in the Caribbean Netherlands?”

In his report, presented in Bonaire on Wednesday, the National Ombudsman painted a very worrisome picture of the living condi­tions of many elderly per­sons. The poverty in this group is generally acknowl­edged, but the Ombudsman researched it and wrote it down.

The report states that hun­dreds of elderly persons on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba regularly go to sleep on an empty stomach. At home they have no food, because they can’t afford to buy it and at the day programme, where there is food, there is often no space for them.

According to National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen, elderly people in the Caribbean Nether­lands often lead a humanly disgraceful life: they can’t make ends meet on their meagre elderly AOV pen­sion and they live in severe poverty. The high cost of living is one of the main rea­sons.

Van Zutphen lauded the ef­forts of State Secretary Van Ark, but in his opinion, it is taking too long to improve the living conditions of the people on the islands. “Stop talking about money. There is work to be done. Top of the list is making sure that the elderly people can have a decent meal three times a day. The rest is politics, policy and clutter,” he said.

Bonaire Commissioner of Community and Care Nina den Heyer said she was glad about the Ombudsman re­port. She said that the el­derly, unlike the younger people, couldn’t do odd jobs because of their age. The facilities, such as pub­lic transport, for the elderly are insufficient, and as a re­sult, this group barely leaves the house. Often, they are forced to live with their chil­dren, or the children live with them.

Den Heyer said the pover­ty problems among the el­derly were solvable, but the Dutch government should get serious about tackling it. “It concerns a group of 2,500 people. How hard can it be to increase the el­derly pension to an accept­able level so they can have a better life?”

The Daily Herald.

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