The recent disclosure by Santia Bradshaw, the Minister of Education and Member of Parliament for St Michael South East, of her amazement in discovering that a staggering 70 000 applications for unemployment benefits had been received so far this year by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), was more than sobering.
It was our belief that the unemployment claims had topped off at 40 000, and so to discover that the numbers have risen to 70 000, is a most disturbing situation. What it suggests is that the slide in our country’s economic situation has not stopped. Clearly, we have not reached the bottom of this COVID-19-induced shock, and this is frightening.
Like many in this country, we were holding out hope that even a slight return of visitors in an anaemic winter tourist season would have provided some respite from the barrage of bad news impacting the island’s main foreign currency generator.
Our hopes have been dashed by the inability of major source markets such as Britain, and most states in the Europe Union to prevent a second wave of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The United States, on whom most countries in the Caribbean depend for significant foreign inflows, has done an embarrassingly woeful job in controlling its outbreak.
In the Caribbean, with our very limited resources we have been able to keep the disease in check for the most part. However, a recent increase in
COVID-19 cases has been worrying. It would appear that the successful infection control measures have lulled our populations into the belief that COVID-19 had disappeared. We know the unseen enemy lurks, waiting only for the right opportunity and an unfortunate host.
The unemployment situation is most disturbing because of the impact that it is likely having on single mothers, who carry the financial burden of most households in Barbados.
We are well aware that difficulties facing women usually translate to all kinds of social upheaval in families and increased vulnerabilities for children.
UN Women, in a recent report stated: “For countless women in economies of every size, along with losing income, unpaid care and domestic work burden has exploded.
“While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19.
“Women who are poor and marginalised face an even higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities, loss of livelihood, and increased violence. Globally, 70 per cent of health care workers and responders are women, and yet, they are not at par with their male counterparts.”
The United Nations agency said pandemic-induced poverty had surged and will widen the gender gap even further, pushing more women into extreme poverty. The global agency also addressed the worrying rate at which women are losing their jobs, exposing them and their children to sexual and financial exploitation.
Like their counterparts around the world, Barbadian women working in the hospitality sector have been devastated. One only has to look at the recent protests staged by hotel and restaurant workers to understand that the 70 000 unemployment benefit applicants are not just statistics but real lives caught up in this whirlwind.
Ryancia Henry, a 32-year-old Caribbean national working in the hospitality sector in the United States remarked: “I worry for myself depending on how long this goes on, what kind of decisions do I have to make, to be financially okay, and I have the same concerns for my team. I send some funds home, to help my mom. I worry about maintaining some payments.”
Henry’s statement reflects exactly the kinds of concerns most women facing the spectra of unemployment and even homelessness. Women are worried about the choices they will be forced to make because of their dire situations, the longer this pandemic continues.
There are many vultures waiting to exploit their vulnerabilities. Woman are worried about losing their independence, maintaining a reasonable standard of living, and most of all, they worry about their families and their
Meaningful research on the social and economic impacts of the pandemic in Barbados ought to be put on the front burner. For we suspect that at the base of much of the economic and societal unravelling in Barbados, rests the widespread malaise of the COVID-19 pandemic.