The Government is examining how best people with special needs can get more benefits from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Minister in the Ministry of Finance Ryan Straughn, who made the disclosure on Friday, indicated that the current regime simply does not allow for enough benefits to those individuals who have to fork out hefty sums of money for various health-related needs, including visits to the dentist and therapy.
“[That is] one of the things that we definitely as a government have been reviewing because as you know, Sir, that under the National Insurance regulations, there are only two conditions that allow persons to access disability benefits,” he said in the House of Assembly.
“I raised this because while I would love for my son to be able to work in the mini-mart or to work in somebody’s kitchen or to develop software, the reality is that those regulations were set 30 or 40 years ago and there are new conditions that will impact the ability of these children, these young adults, from being able to make what may be considered a contribution to society,” added Straughn, whose son is on the autism spectrum.
“Therefore, as we review the policy in relation to persons with disabilities, we will be actively looking at that to determine how else we can support, through the provision of the disability benefits, persons who through no fault of their own will become adults and will have no possibility of earning an income whatsoever,” said Straughn.
His comments came as he wrapped up the debate on a resolution to lease property at the Garrison, St Michael to the Autism Association of Barbados, for that organisation to carry out its Basic Life Skills Programme.
Indicating that Member of Parliament for St James North Edmund Hinkson had submitted a report to the Ministry of Finance relating to people with disabilities in Barbados, Straughn stressed that as the NIS is being reformed, new conditions must be put in place for the social security scheme to better serve people with special needs.
“It really would help families because, as I told you, therapy or a suite of therapy for families is an expensive one and not everybody can afford to do it,” he said, adding that while some assistance was provided through the Ministries of Education and Health, it was not enough.
Straughn, who appeared very emotional during the start of his contribution and shared some of his experience with his son, called on the private sector and other civil society organisations to work collaboratively “with any reliable partner, not just for the interest of these children but strategically across the board, to ensure that all of our children can have the greatest possible opportunity to contribute in whatever small way and be able to make their way as Barbadian citizens”.
Straughn said he would also welcome more programmes similar to the one being provided by the Autism Association of Barbados, to help care for children with special needs, especially in the event that their parents or caregivers pass away.
He gave the assurance that the current administration would continue to make concessions available for the importation of special vehicles to assist with the transportation of individuals with disabilities.
At the same time, Straughn called on non-governmental organisations to fill any existing transportation gaps.
“The Government can work with these entities to be able to bolster the capacity to be able to provide transportation for persons with disabilities, but certainly to ensure that children with special needs can get to and from school without necessarily having to interact in the normal way with respect to public transportation.
“The Ministry of People Empowerment has been reviewing that in the context of the policy with respect to persons with disabilities to see how we can further support that particular initiative,” he said.