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Barely surviving

Shantal Munro Knight

Barely surviving

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Even though I knew it and understood the reality, I still could not get over the revelation in the Sunday SUN of two weeks ago which highlighted the fact that we have people in Barbados who are barely surviving, and I mean barely surviving.  
These women were working for “nex’ing to nothing” under conditions of work that I equated with a level of exploitation, which should have been eradicated with the coming of Independence. Is this what efficiency has come to mean in modern societies? Where profit is based on the denial of the basic right to a decent wage for a fair day’s work?  
Importantly, what also stood out for me was that it showed the impact on women. The two women featured admitted to having a “friend” who helps them out when they are in a tight spot. Two women reduced to a level of “friendly” prostitution – I am going to call it what it is – to make sure they have food on the table for their families.
In the midst of all the discussions about what is happening in the macroeconomy, the impact on tourism, whether or not Avinash Persaud should use our Nationasl Insurace Scheme funds to support what should be a private sector project, it was a reminder that there are some in our society who can barely make ends meet at a very basic level.
As I read the articles I felt outrage, helplessness and guilt, but guess what? By the middle of the week I had forgotten about those women and their situation. I had forgotten that those women represent perhaps a growing group of voiceless within our society with little representation and little hope. I forgot that their children without divine intervention could perhaps end up in similar positions of exploitation.
I went onto the next thing, the Prime Minister’s response to the Alexandra impasse, Avinash Persaud’s rant on the critics of Four Seasons, and last week I got caught up in the silly schoolyard tussle to see who will be the biggest bully in the Barbados Labour Party yard – that is not about democracy and following party procedures; it is about power.
The suggestion by Andrew Bynoe that we should have an across the board ten per cent pay cut jolted me back to reality. In the midst of thinking, what madness – I remembered those women and their hardships. His suggestion that we too need to have a dispassionate and intelligent discussion about solutions became insulting.
What we tend to do is to dehumanize the discussion, take away the faces and situations and sit around a table making decisions that will impact people who will never have a voice in the debate. A dispassionate discussion about putting food on my table – show me any mother anywhere who can have a dispassionate discussion about that! At a very basic level, for some people this is what a ten per cent pay cut will be about.  
Do not get me wrong, I think that Mr Bynoe’s suggestion was made out of a genuine but perhaps ill-informed attempt to recommend a concrete solution to the economic situation facing this country.
In other quarters, what we hear is that Government is adhering to its medium term fiscal strategy.
I am sure many of us do not have a clue what this entails and how it relates to the price of rice in the supermarket but we know that the Government is adhering to it. Good for them!
I am knowledgeable enough to understand how an economy works and aware enough not be naïve about the current economic situation facing this country. But my concern is that we need to be careful in the application of our remedies lest we attempt to treat one problem and exacerbate another. Economic policies do not stand alone or affect just one sector.
There are ripple positive and negative effects not only at the macroeconomic level but at the level of the consumer, whose spending power and consumption habits are also critical to fuelling growth. Moreover, we need to be careful to balance the winners and losers in the process.   
As we attempt to apply across the board remedies, there is an implicit assumption that we are all starting from the same place and that is just not the case.
We must be reminded that balancing the duty of care for our citizens should also take primacy.
This is something I can have an intelligent but perhaps not dispassionate discussion about.
• Shantal Munro Knight is a development specialist and deputy coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]