Last week, I started the conversation on equity versus equality. We got a basic understanding of some general truths for various classes of Barbadians and tried to define what would truly be considered fair.
Equality focuses on all receiving the same treatment. With limited resources; equality does not always mean that persons receive a fair shake. For example, if we have three meals and Person A has a family of four and no income, Person B has a family of four and makes a decent wage and Person C has a family of four and makes an admirable salary, equality would dictate that each person receives a meal, but equity may say otherwise.
This is often a difficult conversation as generalizations sometimes omit the exceptions in a particular class with scenarios that cause them to be, in reality, in a worse position than other classes.
We must be able as a society to put strategies in place to help the most vulnerable, while providing a safety net for those, who on the surface, do not appear to require assistance but are in genuine need.
I do not believe in only using quick fixes for deep issues. Short-term plans are critical for immediate needs but are unsustainable without a long-term vision and may do little to transform the impoverished circumstances of their target audience. Some of the things that can help the under privileged include:
- Tax breaks that focus on placing money in the pockets of the impoverished sooner rather than later. Extra money now is more useful than delayed funds, even if it works out to be more in the long run. When an individual must choose between taking their child to the doctor and fixing a leaking roof, knowing that money may come in a year's time does not help to alleviate the current circumstances and accompanying stress.
- An increase in the minimum wage. I have seen a push towards “trickledown economics”, which is the idea that more money in the pockets of the wealthy translates into more economic activity through the hiring of those in less than ideal circumstances. Not discounting the potential truth in this, I believe it may be more helpful to increase the minimum wage so that persons can meet their basic needs without having to engage in multiple occupations simply to survive.
With this additional time, persons can focus on truly bettering their circumstances rather than spending their days in a constant rat race.
- Education and opportunities. Many times, I speak to persons about opportunities for advancement and they are hearing about them for the first time. Saving opportunities, tax breaks, and free education or skills-based advancement opportunities at times can be perceived as discussions outside the realm of possibility for persons who find it difficult to meet their basic needs, even though these very conversations are critical to their escape from poverty.
The middle class has been redefined by many as the class that is living comfortably, but are a few paychecks away from poverty. On the outside, there is the appearance of comfort, but this comfort is contingent on the current circumstances remaining unchanged or seeing some improvements in the future. However, decreases in disposable income has threatened this reality, especially if children or dependent family members are involved.
Some of the previously mentioned strategies could also help this sector with an emphasis on delayed returns and a bigger future net benefit to compensate for the delayed gratification.
Another consideration could be an increase in the income tax allowances, particularly the personal allowance of $25 000. The cost of living has increased significantly within the last decade, yet this bracket has remained unchanged. We are indeed grateful for the recent changes made to the income tax structure that has brought a much needed ease; however, is there room to consider those at the bottom of the salary scales that have seen the smallest changes to their financial situation?
Can we reconsider ways to help them to also feel a more equitable ease in their circumstances as it is difficult to argue that those falling just above the $25 000 allowance have genuinely experienced improved circumstances?
An increase in this allowance would take into consideration the increased hardships as a result of the various decreases in disposable income over the years.
For those in the upper class of society, improved conversation is required to understand the balance between the unspoken expectation that their wealth should help support the more vulnerable in society versus what is considered fair for those that have worked hard and would expect to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors.
It is a difficult conversation but as those that contribute most to the economy, whether voluntarily through giving back or involuntarily through tax programmes, we as a country have to determine this balance to ensure that the society as a whole can thrive.
*Krystle Howell, CPA, CIA, COSO, ALMI, ACS, aka Mavis, is an Internal Auditor by profession, avid artist and a lover of dance.