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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More children, Mr Jones?

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More children, Mr Jones?

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FIRST, AN UPDATE on the sugar money which was deemed no longer an issue two weeks ago and is still an issue.

The money allegedly has to pass through two Government agencies before it reaches the farmers. We live in hope.

Last week I heard a BBC discussion about the Pope’s remarks during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square. He apparently branded couples who choose not to have children “selfish” and part of a “greedy generation”.

This seems to be the other end of the spectrum after he noted some time ago that Catholics didn’t have to breed like rabbits.

During the discussion it was pointed out that childless people can make meaningful contributions to the world and shouldn’t be considered selfish or greedy, and of course it was noted that the Pope himself, as well as Catholic priests and nuns, were supposed to be celibate and therefore childless, but yet they made their contributions in other important ways.

Of course, if everybody decided not to have children, the world would shut down, but that’s hardly likely.

During the debate, arguments for having children were that they look after parents in their old age. We know that’s a joke in Barbados, as grandmothers often support idle youngsters.

In some countries, the elderly are respected and even revered, while here, the continuing complaint is that they’re dumped in the hospital, and their pensions misappropriated. I certainly know of one lady who hasn’t seen her son for 20 years, and in fact has no idea where he is.

All this brought to mind Minister of Education Ronald Jones’ reported statement that an increase in population would “make sense of the programmes we are looking to develop in Barbados: more people paying taxes, more people eating our agricultural produce and utilising our manufactured goods and services”.

Of course, we’ve also heard that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) will be depleted if there’s no increase in young people since ours is an ageing population. While this may be so, isn’t the “nipples incessantly sucked” just as great or an even greater problem?

Unless Minister Jones is going to legislate who is to have more children and how many, I’m afraid that the situation which already exists will be exacerbated. That is, those who can afford a large number of children don’t have them, while those who can’t do. Instead of bolstering the pension scheme, we will end up stretching the welfare scheme past its limit (although reports suggest we’ve reached there already).

While this increased population sounds good in theory, the reality is there’s no guarantee that it will lead to increased taxes and NIS payments.

First, we already have a relatively high rate of unemployment, leaving one to wonder where the children streaming out of schools on afternoons are going to find employment – self or otherwise.

And the trend (if you work at all) is to work “under the radar”, where you work when you like, how you like and certainly don’t conform to any NIS or tax rules. Furthermore, with increased entrepreneurship, although many of these ventures are very worthwhile, there’ll be much less control over taxes or NIS contributions.

As far as I recall, we’re still one of the most densely populated countries per square kilometre in the world. Our traffic is almost at a standstill (which is beginning to affect the tourism industry), our public transport system is in shambles, as is our waste disposal service, so as some of those debating the matter have said, these things must be corrected and there must be economic growth to be able to support population growth.

Our education system must change – more emphasis and respect for technical education. There are too many people with degrees who can’t get jobs – either told they’re overqualified or they don’t have experience. Pray tell how are they to gain experience?

Some participating in the BBC discussion noted that if an increased population was needed to keep pension schemes going, the economic model was wrong and should be changed instead of increasing children to prop up these economies.

Perhaps that’s what we need here too, plus collecting taxes and NIS contributions from the present population and not milking the NIS. Interesting that Germany, a strong economy, has one of the lowest, if not the lowest, birth rate in the world.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]