Barbados’ “social safety net” is fully intact and working and will not be affected when Government’s austerity Budget begins to be implemented next month.
Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development Steve Blackett gave that assurance today.
He dismissed Barbados Labour Party suggestions that the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals were a recipe for poverty.
The St. Michael Central MP, speaking as debate on the measures continued this morning in the House of Assembly, said the island continued to enjoy social services comparable to countries elsewhere in the western hemisphere.
“Even in the face of some of the measures contained in this year’s budgetary proposals we have maintained what we call the safety net. The Welfare Department continues, despite the criticism of the public, to be a leading player for the relief of clients,” he stated.
Blackett said Welfare provided $14.8 million in assistance under 20 relief categories, including food ($777,000) spectacles ($100,000) water bills ($370,000) electricity bills ($1.9 million), National Housing Corporation rents ($130,000) private accommodation rents ($2.4 million), educational assistance ($483,000) and the purchase of furniture and appliances ($166,000).
“So we are holding the hands of our people and yes there is an increase in the clients presenting for these benefits…, there is no denying that we are in the midst of an economic downturn … so therefore you would expect that people would be hurting in some ways and the increase of clients to the Welfare Department and the other social service agencies would be increased. It goes without saying,” he stated.
The minister said while no one wanted to feel pain, the reality was that Government had to take action to fix the island’s financial and economic problems.
“We have come to a stage in this country’s development where we have to stop and take fresh guard. The contents of these set of budgetary proposals … are exactly that, fresh ground, that realignment of finances, that paradigm shift this country has been crying out for to take us into the future with renewed assurance,” he told the Chamber.
“This path that should have been travelled and pursued by former administrations in good times but it is now left to this administration to navigate these perilous waters in the worst of times.
“These are not regular times, far from, we cannot adopt regular methodologies and concepts. What we have to do is refashion our national priorities in a way that we … will all continue to benefit from our slice of the national cake while at the same time contributing to the ingredients that produce that national cake.
“So in the face of all of this happening in our economy our marginalised people can have the hope that the agencies I have the honour to lead stand in readiness to provide that cushion to assist them through these unusually difficult periods.” (SC)