Barbados’ social safety net is strong and so well financed that nobody should be going to bed “with their bellies to their backs”.
Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett today refuted what he said were Opposition Barbados Labour Party claims that important agencies like the Welfare Department were being underfunded in this year’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, and that this was taking place at a time when more Barbadians were “suffering”.
The St. Michael Central MP, who said welfare would be renamed the Department of Social Services in a few weeks as part of its continued restructuring, while another social agency the National Assistance Board would be called the Commission of Elderly Affairs in the future, told the House of Assembly these agencies in his ministry were well financed and were not in danger of budget cuts.
“In the last financial year we further strengthened the social safety net, especially through the Welfare Department, and also the National Assistance Board. We allocated some $18 million to the Welfare Department and very shortly we will be upcoming for another $2.5 million, … some $23 million for this financial year all going to the Welfare Department,” he said this morning during the Estimates Debate in the Lower House.
“The allocation to the Welfare Department has always been hovering between $18 million and $22 million and because $18 million appears in the Estimates for this year’s expenditure … that of course points only to what we are allocating at this part of the year, but always we come back later in the financial year and of course allocate sometimes two, three or four million dollars to help top up the Welfare Department.
“So that does not affect what we are allocating here in the Estimates and we are also giving the National Assistance Board some $11 million for them to execute the work that they do within that particular agency.
“Despite what the Opposition says the monetary grants to shore up the safety net remain intact and remain extremely vibrant, and there is … absolutely no reason … why any Barbadian should go to sleep in this country hungry or with their bellies to their backs, as the Barbados Labour Party likes to say, or any reason why there should be any widespread suffering as the Barbados Labour Party likes to say,” he added.
Blackett also outlined the specific areas of money spent from the $34 million budget share by Welfare and the NAB.
“This financial year we have granted to the Welfare Department for monetary assistance, which are grants to clients who present to the Welfare Department, some $15.9 million in grants, in food vouchers we have given $810,000; for spectacles $100,000; for hearing aids, prostheses and dentures $59,000; for burial of the poor, this arrangement is made through a private funeral home, we have granted$23, 000; for the payment of house rents, $2.7 million in house rents and arrears we have paid on behalf of Barbadians,” the stated.
“Any Barbadian who presents to the Welfare Department, and of course is in arrears with their landlord, the Welfare Department on assessment of that particular case has granted $2.7 million in terms of house rent arrears. We have also paid electricity bills, some $1.5 million in electricity bills and in water bills some $341,000 over the last financial year.”
“In educational assistance also, for school books, school uniforms and also for some school fees, we have disbursed some $5.8 million for people who presented for that kind of assistance, and of course that is the normal grant that is given at the beginning of the school term.”
Blackett added, however, that while Welfare was “performing true to form and true to its remit”, he intended to “forge ahead as minister with the continued restructuring of the Welfare Department, with a view really to improve the delivery of its services that are guided by the report of the [National] Productivity Council”. (SC)