Desperation forced Janice Harris to mount a one-woman protest outside the Houses of Parliament today. She wanted the attention of the Government, she told Barbados TODAY. And she got it.
The former maid who retired medically unfit from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) said she came to the House of Assembly during its regular Tuesday session to demand urgent answers from lawmakers after receiving $47.51 in Government pension for the month of April.
Harris, 55, a single mother of an 18-year-old son, said that before last month she was receiving $608 from the Treasury as a part of her Government pension. This was later increased to $628 and she also got an invalidity benefit of over $800, she said.
She said she used this money to pay her utilities and buy food for her household but she was now virtually empty-handed without warning.
“Right now, I do not have food in the house. Right now, I have to get glasses, my shoes dropping in holes. I cannot go to Welfare as I am not a welfare client. They could have taken some, but they take all. They need to go back and review it as there are many more medically unfit.
“You cannot leave us as citizens of Barbados like that. It is a disgrace. What are you putting me to do? There is nowhere in the world that I could live off $47.51 and have no other income.
“There are people that are medically unfit in this country who cannot work and you are pushing us into a one pension system and most of the people that I know are tied up in a mortgage so what are you sending [us] to do?
“I had to turn to the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) with desperation this morning. Right now, I have no money to pay my bills, no money to buy food. I cannot buy anything of my own. It has taken away all of my freedom.”
Harris said that back in 2011 she fell at her home at 629 Chelston Cross Lane, Bayville, St Michael, and injured the rotator cuff in her right arm. As she worked as a maid her injury made it difficult for her to work and she came out of the service in 2013 medically unfit after ten years of broken service .
“At the time you would go to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and they would qualify you for injury benefits. At the QEH, you would receive your gratuity in a reduced pension,” she said.
Harris said after spending her time in the state-owned hospital where she worked tirelessly to ensure it was kept clean, she was hurt with the treatment she was now receiving at Government’s hands.
“You know what hurts me? You can go to the QEH and check my dedication to that hospital. I was one of the most devoted maids in this country. I was dedicated to the Government of Barbados; you can ask my housekeeper.
“I was faithful. I was one of the maids that spent hours looking after the public, cleaning the toilets and you are going to tell me today that this is what the Government could offer me? I had to do something about it. You cannot live off $47.51 no matter how you swing it.”
Harris’ protest got the attention of her MP in St Michael South, Minister of Maritime Affairs Kirk Humphrey, who pledged to meet with her tomorrow to discuss her plight.
She later told Barbados TODAY: “I felt a load was lifted as I know Kirk Humphrey as he does not live far from me. This is an emergency.
“You know you are a woman and you have your bills ready to cut off. You cannot wait till the grass grow and the horse starving. I appreciate it. I will meet with Kirk very early in the morning. We will meet he said 8:30 a.m. But one thing that I want is money to pay my bills and buy food.”
Harris said that her NIS invalidity benefit is paying the mortgage until she is 67.
“They cannot tell me about National Insurance Scheme because that mortgage to pay is $782 per month. If it wasn’t [tied to] the mortgage no problem. I have up to 67 [to repay the mortgage]. The bank said, ‘Miss Harris I have given you the lowest percent,’” she said.
The single mother attributed her faith in God to saving her from spiralling into depression as she grapples with her money woes.
“If I did not know God, I would be so depressed. I would suffer from mental depression when I sit down and I see what happened to me as a Government worker. I may have been a psychiatric patient,” she declared.