Minister of Labour and Social Security Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo has signalled that changes will be coming to laws governing disability under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Dr Byer-Suckoo told Barbados TODAY her ministry was currently reviewing the laws to include an extension to the range of disabilities covered under the NIS as well as to make adjustments to allow for persons with disabilities who are still able to work, to do so and rely less on Government.
However, quickly pointing out that the mechanism was not yet decided on and therefore it was not about Government slashing disability benefits, Byer-Suckoo said a major part of the reason was to get people to continue to be productive.
“I don’t want you to go out there and say Government will be cutting the amount, but we are looking at a mechanism that would allow persons who are disabled from doing one kind of work to still be, while receiving some sort of support, able to be productive at some level and not totally unproductive,” she said.
“I do realize that we have persons who may have sustained a serious injury, say for example, at age 30, and after a few years they are not seeing significant improvement and they can’t do the job and they come off disabled. When you come off disabled then, according to National Insurance, you cannot work. So you have a 40-year-old who is now permanently disabled and for the rest of his life is not expected to work.
“That gets very frustrating when you reach 45 and you realize ‘look I am tired sitting down. Okay, so I may not have been able to do the job I trained for, I trained as a carpenter and I am a good carpenter but because of these injuries I can’t work as a carpenter. What am I going to do now? Be a ward of the state for the rest of my life?’
“We are going to look at the system to ensure that while disability may have to be an option for some people, that there are other options so that you can probably get something but still be allowed to do some sort of partial work,” the minister explained.
“But now if National Insurance finds out that you are earning that money, your disability benefit is gone. We want people to continue to be productive. It is good for the psyche and it is good for the country,” she added.
Pointing out that the NIS will be celebrating 50 years next year, the Minister of Labour said it was about time some of its laws were updated. She said while the legislation described some well-known disabilities, it did not go far enough to include others that were now becoming common since some people with those disabilities are living longer.
“It speaks, for example, to people who are blind or who is a deaf [or] mute as being disabled, and it speaks to them specifically. It doesn’t just give those as examples but since then there are other types of disabilities. For example, cerebral palsy is a disability, and maybe 50 years ago, persons with cerebral palsy weren’t living to the age that National Insurance and Social Security would be a consideration for them,” she said.
“So there are persons who would be needing some sort of social security benefit. We are looking at those kinds of things in the legislation to ensure that we are dealing with more of an up-to-date situation. So even if it doesn’t say cerebral palsy by name, it will not just say blind and deaf mute.”
Byer-Suckoo also noted that work on phasing out non-contributory old age pension was still ongoing and should be completed “within the next decade”.