(from the Daily Herald, picture Sloan Breeden)
THE HAGUE–Dutch caretaker Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Henk Kamp is willing to look at adapting the decree that regulates social security (onderstand) of the Dutch ‘public entities’ Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in specific cases and to increase the allowance of persons with a disability.
Kamp stated this in a letter that he sent to the Second Chamber on Friday in relation to the poverty study which went to the Dutch Parliament on the same day. The Minister is willing to look at broadening the scope of the special social welfare (bijzondere onderstand). Raising the general social welfare is out of the question.
The report “Poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands, an exploration” drafted on the request of the Second Chamber states that “there is a group of people that have a problem to make ends meet.”
The income of about fifty per cent of the people in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is situated on or just above the minimum wage. This group cannot pay all expenses and must get an extra job and/or rely on their family for help. Payment arrears in the area of rent, electricity and water are the result. People are also saving on food. They buy cheaper and often unhealthy food with no vegetables or fruits. Children go to school without breakfast and sometimes only eat crackers.
Poverty often has to do with the situation at home. Many times the father is missing and he is not sufficiently contributing to his family. Housing is inadequate with too many persons in one home and a lack of privacy. Domestic violence is a problem.
The local community helps its members in case of trouble. Often this is the family. Joint housing makes it possible to share the cost, but the other side is that space is not sufficient. Furniture is lacking and there are not enough beds. Churches also provide assistance and form an important part of the social safety net. The elderly relying on only an AOV pension are having a tough time. They are a risk group, together with persons with a labour disability and single mothers who have to do without a financial contribution from the father.
The basic AOV ranges from US $555 to US $582 per person per month. An elderly couple may receive US $1,110 to US $1,206 per month, but the reality is that most elderly don’t have a partner and if the partner dies, the amount is cut in half.
Low income is often not the only reason for financial problems and poverty. “Many respondents in the study indicated that they have difficulty managing their money. Wrong priorities are set. Borrowing (also to buy luxury goods like a flat screen TV or an expensive mobile phone) is a wellknown phenomenon in the Caribbean Netherlands.”
Guidance to work is an important tool in fighting poverty, according to the report. The integral approach of the social economic problems forms the framework, in particular a custom-made approach such as activities for specific target groups.
Tackling the labour issue is a responsibility of the island government. The report mentioned the “Sailor” (matroos) project in St. Eustatius which coaches and educates unemployed youngsters to give them a better chance at a job in the maritime sector. “It is important to include employers in these kinds of initiatives.”
Minister Kamp stated that an individual custom-made approach is important in fighting poverty and reducing unemployment. The island governments and the Dutch Government have to jointly fight poverty. However, the local government is mainly responsible in the fight against poverty, aside from labour mediation and labour participation. “This overall responsibility fits in the position of the island government for its citizens.” The ‘free allowance’ (vrije uitkering), the contribution that the islands receive from the Dutch Government to cover their costs, and possible other funds can be used to fight poverty. Examples are school breakfast programmes, meal programmes for the elderly, or financial assistance for acute situations such as leaking roofs or to help cover water and electricity bills.
Improvements in the area of after-school care are possible and necessary, concluded Minister Kamp. It is a responsibility of the island governments to take measures, however, the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour is looking at ways of support to increase the level of after-school care through expertise of day care centres in The Netherlands.
Kamp has special attention for those persons with a labour disability. They form a specific category who receive a separate allowance and the Minister is considering to increase that. A general increase of social welfare is not an issue, the Minister stated. The Minister plans to discuss the results of the poverty study and the policy conclusions with the Executive Councils during the next Caribbean Netherlands week in October 2012 after which a possible adaptation of the social welfare decree can be prepared.
Kamp said he expected the islands to take action to combat poverty because the local governments carried the first, broader responsibility. He stated that as Minister he only plays a secondary role. In 2008, during the constitutional reform process,
it was agreed that the point of departure would be to set norms so facilities in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba would be at a level that were acceptable within The Netherlands, especially in the area of education, public health, social security and safety.
Here you can see an article in Dutch about the report on poverty of Bonaire, Statia, Saba http://kkc.net16.net/2012/06/kinderen-zonder-ontbijt-naar-school/
The poverty report itself (in Dutch) can be seen here: http://www.scribd.com/jansenannemieke/d/97600296-Armoede-in-Caribisch-Nederland-31-Mei-2012-Def