Poverty is defined as the state of being extremely poor. Poverty means that the income level from employment is so low that basic human needs cannot be met. “St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a poverty rich country.” Major Leacock. Thousands of families are living in abject poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Unity Labor Party (ULP) government has created this poverty rich country.
Research has shown that poverty is linked with negative conditions such as: substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under resourced schools which adversely impact our nation’s children. Those conditions can be identified in this country and are severely affecting most Vincentians.
In an effort to get a true picture of poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in 2017, the government began preparations to conduct the Poverty Assessment. Four years later, the government has failed to release the report to the general public. What is ULP government hiding?
The New Democratic Party has been calling continuously on the government in and out of parliament to release the report. In late 2019, the Honourable Daniel Cummings asked the Minister of Finance the following question: The country poverty assessment was launched with much fanfare in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in February, 2018. The IMF’s report put unemployment among youths here, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at about 46%. Would the Minister please explain why the country Poverty Assessment Report which should have published in March 2019 as promised by the government, is still not published; how much was spent in undertaking the assessment, and when can, we, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, expect the report to be made public? An answer is yet to be given.
Two years later, Leader of the Opposition, Dr, Godwin Friday, will on Thursday 29th July asked of the Minister of Finance: The report for the 2018 poverty assessment has not been released to the public by the government but was made public by Members of the Opposition last year. This generated much public interest and discussion. At that time, members of the government responded that the report was not yet complete. Will the Minister please state: whether the 2018 poverty assessment has been completed; if it has been completed, when the report will be released to the public and; if it has not been completed, explain why it has not been completed? We are waiting patiently for the answer to that question.
However, we did get a peep into the report. Last year, Mr. Cummings presented findings to the general public of the Poverty Assessment Report. And it painted a damning picture of poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The report concluded that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is worse than when the ULP gained power in 2001. It stated that poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines had moved from 30.2% of the population in 2008 to 36.1 % in 2018. And the indigence level had moved from 2.9% to 11.3% in the country of 110,000 people. The government denied knowledge of the report and said the poverty study was incomplete.
Contrary to what the government is saying; poverty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is real, we are witnessing it every day. The uproar that was triggered when I Witness News aired a video captioned, “Storm exposes shocking poverty”, was no surprise to us. But, some persons were appalled while others wanted to crucify the producer of the program. Three years ago, I Witness News also featured a story entitled, “Children 6 & 10 among family living on streets of Kingstown”. The story dealt with a family of five, including two minors, a 10-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, and an 18-year-old who were living under a tree in Kingstown for almost four months. Examples of poverty in this country.
The ULP government for the twenty years in power has mismanaged the country’s economy which has contributed significantly to the increase of poverty. This country is at the bottom of the OECS as it relates to economic growth. The government has failed to create meaningful employment. Unemployment is at its highest. The overall unemployment rate has increased from 20 percent to 26 percent and 46 percent of young people are unemployed. Those figures were before COVID- 19 and the volcanic eruption. We were told by the Minister of Finance that since COVID- 19 the situation is worse. That 420 businesses have been closed and 2754 jobs have been lost to COVID- 19. The ULP government has no clue as to how to solve the current unemployment situation.
The government has destroyed the productive sectors. Despite the importance of agriculture to the economy of this country, the government has systematically abolished the agricultural sector. The ill-advised policies of the government have forced many established farmers out of agriculture, and vast areas of formerly highly productive land are now abandoned. Even a cursory examination of our rural areas reveals a deteriorating situation, where large sections of land, previously deemed part of the national food-basket, are now under-utilized.
Crime is on the increase. There is a rapid increase of homicides for the year. For the first six months of this year, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded twenty two (22) homicides. Also, a significant percentage of our student population is without electronic devices, internet connections and electricity to access online education. And, during the regular school session, some parents are unable to send their children.
The government must release the Poverty Assessment Report. It is their responsibility to do so. Over the years, they have boasted about their programs for poverty reduction. The damaging report is an indication that the ULP government has failed Vincentians and is bankrupt of ideas.