Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin
By KYLE WALKINE
Tribune Staff Reporter
SOCIAL Services Minister Melanie Griffin told The Tribune yesterday that while she was surprised by statistics that show an increase in poverty in the Bahamas, she expected it given the recent global recession.
Mrs Griffin said with the increase in population and the recession, conditions have changed, resulting in the increase in poverty.
“Sadly, we expected it,” she said.
“This kind of information is always surprising, but it was expected based on the last several years. It really speaks to what we’ve been experiencing at Social Services itself in trying to provide assistance for our people.”
The minister’s comments came in the wake of news from the Department of Statistics that poverty, since 2001, has risen by 3.5 per cent and that more than 40,000 people within the country live under the poverty line with an annual income of less than $5,000 a year.
The absolute poverty line is $11.64 per day, according to the Department of Statistics’ 2013 Household Expenditure Survey based on socio-economic and demographic information collected from households throughout the country last year.
The minister said she anticipates poverty levels to drop with employment increasing and better fiscal measures being put in place by the government.
“The Social Safety Net is a programme designed to change the way we deliver social assistance,” she said, describing one of the ways the government plans to tackle poverty.
“It’s designed to break the cycle of poverty in families. What it is is a conditional cash transfer, which is a sum of funds, not cash, that is given to a family every month in order to assist them in meeting their needs through the course of the month. Now, what it does is consolidate some of our current assistance methods like food and uniform.”
“There is a base amount that goes to the family. Now where the conditions come in, there is a health condition and an education condition. The education condition means that the family has to ensure that the children attend school and where they attend school, if they are having problems they will be placed in remedial classes. Then, of course, there’s the health condition, which means that children must attend healthy lifestyle clinics where they are helped with their diet, etc. So where you have a healthier and more educated family, we believe they stand a better chance at survival.”
The minister also said the implementation of value added tax (VAT) on January 1, 2015 will mostly affect the poor in the Bahamas.
She added that the government may have to look at a way to adjust the new 7.5 per cent tax to better accommodate the poor as well before it takes effect. “The people most affected by VAT will be the persons who are now receiving assistance,” Mrs Griffin said. “So if this means we have to fortify what we are doing, then we will have to do so. But for the most part, the people that will most be affected will be these same people.”
“The people who receive social service assistance now are perceived to be those who are among the poor. So they would be the same persons who would be most affected, I believe, by VAT.”
The statistics released on Tuesday also showed that children under the age of 14 have the highest poverty rate in the Bahamas. Women represent 52 per cent of all poor persons, but have a lower poverty rate than that of men.