Barbadians are presently focused on a number of seemingly “hot button” issues, and rightly so. However, while this focus might be justified, invisible in plain sight is a growing number of citizens whose social and economic vulnerabilities are rapidly galloping from bad to worse to unbearable.
I am referring to those persons who, largely through no fault of their own, are being forced to suffer the consequences of having to place themselves at the mercy of a social services/welfare system which is grossly under-resourced in terms of budgetary provision and the lack of a requisite professional staff compliment.
It is quite surprising that at a time of severe economic austerity characterized by job losses, under-employment and an increasing incidence of chronic non communicable diseases, coupled with an impressive life expectancy rate and a major shift in the configuration of the traditional Barbadian family, make it obvious to the alert professional eye that more persons would of necessity have to lean on the welfare services for either temporary or long-term relief.
The implications of this reality should be an appropriate and timely increase in not only the budget but human resource allocation as well. A conversation with vulnerable persons requiring state welfare assistance would quickly lead to the observation of the depth of frustration and dissatisfaction felt by such persons. Similarly, the professional and ancillary staff, whose job requires them to minister to the needs of such vulnerable persons, are made to feel that they are required to “make bricks without straw”, and feel equally frustrated and increasingly dissatisfied at not being able to assist clients in the way their professional training and experience demand.
It is to be regretted that existing public service regulations make it difficult, if not impossible, for these professionals to speak as fearlessly and honestly as the principles of their profession stipulate. While having a group discussion some time ago on the challenges confronting the social services and the need for reform , I was shocked to hear one senior professional state “it is ok for you to talk but it comes down to bread and butter”. In other words, to speak up for improved services for the poor, disadvantaged and dispossessed was perceived to be capable of costing the professional his /her job.
Parliamentary representatives, political aspirants and community leaders have a sacred responsibility to do much more than speak in the usual nonspecific terms about the sad plight of those who cannot speak for themselves and whose quality of life has been severely compromised by today’s social and economic environment.
There are senior citizens and others who are desperately in need of medical services which are not readily available to them because they cannot afford the lengthy wait on public services and cannot afford private sector treatment. As a consequence, many feel that they have no other choice but to go without the timely intervention that is in their best interest. The result is often more deep seated morbidity or mortality.
Caring and considerate policymakers must know that treatment denied often leads to more emergency interventions, such as ambulance services, emergency hospital, and at times intensive care, and such other services which are far more costly than timely and effective comprehensive interventions.
It is no secret that the “eat healthy” campaign, as good as it is, will continue to be less successful than it could be, partly because poor people are often forced to fill their stomachs with inexpensive calories because that is all that they can afford. This spots a bright light on the great distance between the rhetoric and meaningful reality for those who have to “scrunt” day in and day out for survival. Those of us who have much more than a basic understanding of these issues must be motivated to do much more for the vulnerable in our midst.
We can and must advocate more strategically for better provision for these subsectors of our nation, and this is not to ignore the perilous state of government’s finances. The greater and more effective utilization of our well-established NGO community could go a long way towards reaching and catering to the needs of the almost forgotten sectors of our Barbadian community. It should not be forgotten that the poor, dispossessed and disadvantaged have the right and responsibility to cast votes, so too does the growing senior citizens sector.
I feel compelled to state that hungry, sick, frustrated and downtrodden men, women and youth are quite capable of being motivated and mobilized for positive action in their own self defence and quality of life. It should be obvious by now that the world is far less tolerant or “politically correct” than it once was; therefore, we take the vulnerable and those who perceive themselves to be underappreciated for granted at our own peril.