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Bias against poor Bajans

Ricky Jordan

Bias against poor Bajans

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STIGMA, INTER-GENERATIONAL POVERTY and a lack of qualifications/skills – despite Government’s high expenditure on education – are among reasons why individual and household poverty nearly doubled in Barbados in the last two decades.
In the just released Country Assessment Of Living Conditions, commissioned by the Barbados Government and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), researchers said that not only were 19.3 per cent of individuals and 15 per cent of households living below the poverty line here up to 2010 – compared to 13.9 per cent of individuals and 8.7 per cent of households in 1996 – but stigma was also a barrier to jobs and opportunities, thereby leading many to poverty. 
It noted the existence of an “external barrier to access due to stigma and discrimination because of age, sex, area of residence, religion, disability, sexuality, migrant status or HIV status”, and that the attitudes of people toward “sex workers, the disabled, Rastafari, gays, the homeless, people living with HIV/AIDS, to mention some . . . meant lack of access to several public amenities and services, and therefore limited their ability to enhance their living conditions”.
The 113-page study, the first Country Assessment to be done here, has recommended that laws be enacted with respect to discrimination, sexual harassment and domestic violence, and that a programme be developed to educate people on gender relationships and roles.
It also noted “lack of qualifications and skills amongst the lowest expenditure groups . . . despite the high proportion of Government expenditure on education”. It added that reasons proferred for not completing technical/vocational training courses included financial problems, home duties and the view that some courses were simply “not worth attending”.
“This suggests that there are other pressures on the individual (burden of care) which is precluding the attainment of qualifications and skills . . . . The effects of a lack of qualifications/skills are unemployment, larger households (as dependents lack the resources to leave the household), and employment in low-paying sectors due to limited skill-sets,” the report, presented by the CDB to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his Cabinet last Thursday, added.
The Country Assessment, whose research was conducted in 2009 and 2010 by interviewing a sample of 2 425 households and 6 973 individuals, showed the poverty line to be $7 861 – up from $5 503 in 1997 when a less comprehensive study on poverty and income distribution in Barbados was done by the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank.
Among contributors to poor living conditions and poverty, the Country Assessment stated, were “coming from a poor family”, high fertility rates, large numbers of children, lack of support from children’s fathers, unemployment, low wages, lack of education, and either physical or mental disabilities
Researched at the height of the current economic recession, the Country Assessment also indicated that the high cost of living, particularly food and utility bills, were having a negative effect on Barbadians’ living conditions and their ability to meet basic needs. 
“Respondents identified some of the devastating effects that living in poor conditions and in poverty have on their health, on their relationships, on how they are treated by others in relation to social and familial exclusion, and on their self-esteem,” the study said.
“Many stressed the serious psychological and emotional damage that they experience, including stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, helplessness and powerlessness. These issues are all strongly interrelated with three main characteristics: unemployment, low-paying/part-time employment (under-employment), high levels of dependency in households, and social and familial exclusion.”
Following an analysis of the causes of the above characteristics, five main issues emerged: a lack of desire to work, a lack of qualification/skills, a lack of opportunities in the labour market, a disproportionate burden of care, and stigma and discrimination.
Conducted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the University of the West Indies with support from the Barbados Statistical Service, Caribbean Development and Research Services (CADRES), the National Nutrition Centre, and the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, the Country Assessment also stated that while Barbados’ human development ranking had fallen from 31 in 2005 to 47 in 2011, it was still considered to have a “very high human development status”.
Examples of this were noted in the country having achieved four of the eight millennium 2015 development goals: the achievement of universal primary education, gender equality, reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal health. The per capita real gross domestic product of Barbados was also shown to have risen from $3 193 in 1995 to $4 161 in 2007, while the establishment of the tripartite Social Partnership and the introduction of constituency councils “to give voice to persons living in various political constituencies and improve the participation process” were commended.
The Country Assessment also placed Barbados second in CARICOM in relation to household poverty and third in individual poverty, with its 15 per cent (household) bettered only by Antigua in 2007 with 13.4, and its 19.3 (individual) bettered by Antigua’s 18.3 and Nevis’ 15.9. Belize was the highest in household poverty at 31 per cent in 2009.
“The country has produced a good governance record by all international indicators such as the rule of law, voice, accountability and the control of corruption. There is respect for law and order and the fulfilment of human rights. There is also freedom of the Press and the right of association according to one’s free will,” the Country Assessment reported.
On the ground, however, the Country Assessment, funded by the CDB to the tune of half million dollars and subtitled Human Development Challenges In A Global Crisis: Addressing Growth And Social Inclusion, painted a picture of several households still using pit toilets in the Greater Bridgetown area; social community problems such as abuse and trafficking of illegal drugs; evidence of gangs and gang violence; prostitution; gambling; theft and alcoholism.
“According to some, their engagement in these illegal activities has resulted from their inability to obtain ‘regular’ jobs and their need to generate income to sustain their livelihoods. However, there is concern that some young children are also engaged in these activities. There is a significant amount of indiscipline and delinquency among people and, while not common, some of the information obtained suggests that there is some incest and sexual exploitation of young boys as well as young girls, by older men,” the study added.
A concern about the existence of “blocks” in some communities and the unacceptable behaviour of block members was also highlighted.
“Many blocks have developed a sub-culture with distinctive characteristics, and some of their activities do have negative outcomes and effects. However, the data show that in the absence of community-based organizations, the blocks provide members with a sense of belonging that counteracts the sense of exclusion and rejection that they feel from the wider society. Blocks also provide opportunities for their members to build relationships and interact in positive ways, and their members provide support and assistance to each other,” it added.
Data on children was also a feature of the study, with a major concern being the differential between the presence of mothers and fathers in the home: 86 per cent of mothers were present compared to 40 per cent of fathers, while only 36 per cent of children had both parents in the home.
“This greater presence of mothers in the household presents a situation where there is a greater burden of care, a consequence of which is less opportunity for participation in the labour market or in education. This is evidenced by the fact that female-headed households are more prevalent as poor households than those headed by males,” the Country Assessment submitted.
The report consisted of four components: a Macro Socio-Economic Assessment, a Survey of Living Conditions, a Participatory Poverty Assessment of communities and households and vulnerable groups, and an Institutional Analysis.
CDB social analyst Elbert Ellis, who proposed the study, said that in light of the impact of the global economic recession, it had become clear that Barbados must look at the reduction of poverty within the context of economic growth.
“This CALC would have presented a lot of very useful empirical data that can be used in articulating the social policy framework as well as a growth and poverty reduction strategy,” Ellis told the SUNDAY SUN, adding that research had been done in many local communities in order to “get behind the numbers and get the views of those persons who we define as poor”. 
Prime Minister Stuart said Government would use the Country Assessment Of Living Conditions to guide policy and would take the findings “very seriously”, particularly in relation to the most vulnerable.