Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Chung calls for more long-term intervention to tackle poverty

Published:Thursday | April 27, 2023 | 1:08 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

Financial analyst Dennis Chung has said that while interventions such as the $200-million welfare programme announced by Social Security Minister Karl Samuda on Wednesday are necessary to assist the poor, the bigger issue is that such schemes are not designed to lift people out of poverty.

Samuda, the labour and social security minister who was making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, noted that with the initiative, the island’s 63 members of parliament (MPs) will be given the opportunity to play a more active role in providing urgent assistance to needy constituents.

But Chung argued that such an imitative is just filling a gap.

“The challenge is that this is just giving a man a fish,” said Chung, adding that a greater effort should be made to teach a man to fish.

“It will fill a gap, but what we really need to do is look at long-term sustainable measures that will pull people out of poverty,” he told The Gleaner.

He said the only way people can emerge out of poverty is when they become more productive citizens.

“You are going to be putting $200 million into the economy, and if you don’t have the productivity improvements, then what it drives is inflation, so we need to make sure that we are doing things that will drive productivity,” he added.

The $200 million allocation, when broken down, means that each MP will be able to submit projects totalling about $3.2 million to address the needs of the dispossessed.

On Wednesday, Samuda indicated that persons who would benefit from this exercise include “those who earn so little that they are unable to take care of their financial obligations that come with certain shocks, such as funeral expenses, natural or man-made disasters, citizens who cannot find work, those who cannot work due to sickness, disability and old age ... ”.

In addition, the ministry said it would be increasing the allocation under the short-term poverty-intervention programme from $1.5 million to $2 million for each MP.

The allocations are in addition to the $20 million set aside annually for each MP under the Constituency Development Fund to carry out a range of infrastructure, social, and economic projects.

In a Gleaner interview, Samuda explained that at present, MPs do not play a part in the social security programme of his ministry.

At the same time, Samuda told his parliamentary colleagues that in the coming weeks, a social worker would be assigned to each constituency to identify the most needy.

Commenting on the Government’s social pension programme, Samuda said that since its introduction in July 2021, at least 12,000 persons 75 years and over are now benefiting as at March 2023.

To benefit under this programme, elderly persons must not be receiving pension support.

With some seniors having difficulty registering on the programme owing to the lack of official documents, Samuda said that the ministry would be working with the Registrar General’s Department to assist 2,000 persons to obtain their birth certificates.