Pensioners on disability benefits who had found their monthly payments chopped are going to have to endure the situation a bit longer as there is still no word on when the promised reversal will be put in place.
Despite an assurance from Minister of Labour and Social Security Colin Jordan on June 1, that full reinstatement would occur in a matter of days, medically unfit ex-public servants are still awaiting the adjustment.
Norman Blackman, a former police constable, who left the force medically unfit in 2006, told Barbados TODAY that with three school-aged children to support, his invalidity benefit had been reduced by nearly $1000, leaving him to survive off a $179 cost of living allowance.
“The cost of living is so high, that I can’t do anything at all. I can’t pay back loans to the credit union properly, I have children to send to school, I can’t deal with my bills as I should and interest is piling on and I can’t handle it.
“Then I heard the Minister say they would restore it in a matter of days. I felt good, because I knew I would be able to do my things, but not a cent. The people at the treasury said they don’t know anything about it,” said Blackman.
While efforts to reach the social security Minister have been unsuccessful, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Ryan Straughn stressed there was still no timeline on the promised fix.
“The treasury is in the process of dealing with it and from finance on our end, we are looking to have it expedited as quickly as possible. I can’t give a specific timeline because there are certain details which have to be worked out to make sure the persons that came off can get back on,” Straughn told Barbados TODAY.
The challenges gained public attention when disability pensioner, Janice Harris, 55 mounted a protest outside Parliament after receiving a cheque for $47.51 for the month of April.
“If I could join her down town, I would have, but I can’t really move around,” said retired constable Blackman, who broke his back in a fall three years ago.
“I don’t know how they are reading the law and I don’t know whether to call it a mistake or a cost cutting measure.”
Meanwhile Minister Straughn revealed the problem had arisen amid Government’s efforts to reconcile the country’s social security system. As part of the arrangement, Barbadians will no longer be allowed to claim separate pensions from NIS and their former employer.
He also stressed that disability pension is a “type of early retirement pension” and would consequently be affected. The decision is however under review as cabinet seeks to “iron out” some technical details surrounding its implementation.
At a political meeting held recently, Democratic Labor Party President Verla Depeiza and former cabinet Minister Jepter Ince expressed doubt that Government would be able to reinstate the benefits. Citing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Technical Memorandum of Understanding, in which Government promised to table a revised pension policy in Parliament by June 2019, they predicted Government would renege on its promise to disability pensioners.
“This is June 2019 that they are going to amend the pension law. So that means that they jumped out the box, like a bull in a China shop starting with the invalidity and the disability benefits. Because of the outcry, they chose to back track. But if you heard the Minister, he said they could restore the money, but he can’t tell you when. They can’t restore it, because it is contained in an IMF document,” Ince charged.
Minister Straughn however said there was no relationship between the two.
“So just to be clear, at the moment, every public servant who receives a pension receives it directly out of Government’s revenue. There is no scheme like the NIS, whose contributions are set aside and invested in that forum to provide for the pensions of public servants and therefore what is in the technical memorandum of understanding under the BERT program is actually to have a review of the way that public service pensions are financed going forward and therefore the two things are completely different and there is literally no relationship between the two,” he explained.
“Typically, National Insurance pensions or social security pensions from NIS are capped, while your pension you may get from a company is based on the length of service and the salary you may end up with. So from a calculations perspective, your NIS pension is typically less than the pension you may receive privately. Therefore, with that in mind, there is an offsetting or netting off to make sure the maximum pension you receive is the maximum of whatever the two has to be, so that you don’t get both pensions in full and that is just how the nature of pension works,” Straughn stressed.
He gave further assurance that public servants who have already reached pensionable age (people with ten years’ of service or more) would not be affected, while adding the new system had not yet been finalised. [email protected]