YESTERDAY’S commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty came at a crucial turning point both locally and internationally.
The TT budget debate has spawned discussion over the structure of our economy and the place of the lowest income earners within it. The new minimum wage of $17.50 and the 15 per cent hike on Cepep and URP wages (the Government says the hike will be over and above the new minimum wage and has dismissed speculation over fewer working hours) have returned to the spotlight the measures used by the State to provide support to the poor.
But instead of quibbling over whether a $2.50 increase is enough and whether there are grounds for legal action, we should be discussing whether these interventions – in place now for decades – are closing the gap between the rich and the poor. Are we eradicating poverty?
There is some disagreement over how poverty should be measured. Do we simply look at income levels? At quality of diet and nourishment? At the weight of infants and children? At job and asset security? At opportunities available? Is poverty a relative concept? Should we listen to criminologists who postulate crime levels reflect a wide disparity between the haves and have-nots? Has it truly dawned upon us that tackling crime means tackling poverty?
According to some estimates, while unemployment is around four per cent, the poverty rate might be 20 per cent – reflecting the fact that there are people with jobs who are nonetheless subsisting below the poverty line. The CSO’s ongoing population survey in select protected areas of the country should provide clearer insight into the geographic spread of some of these variables.
For now, it’s clear enough that poverty is a serious problem. Crime, the high level of street dwellers, the large number of people living in sub-par conditions and slums are enough evidence. Data is essential, but we don’t need fancy reports to show us more needs to be done.
In a world characterised by unprecedented levels of economic development, technology and financial services, that millions are living in extreme poverty is a moral outrage. Poverty is not only an economic issue. It’s a multidimensional, global phenomenon. As such, eradicating poverty is rightly the first of the UN’s sustainable development goals. That goal calls for better long-term jobs and equality. It is crucial given challenges on the horizon.
The World Bank has estimated that without climate-informed development in Latin America and the Caribbean, another 2.6 million people in the region could slide into extreme poverty by 2030. This would be due largely to the health impact of climate change and the effect of warmer temperatures on worker productivity.
Therefore, we urgently need a more mature discussion on the nature of this problem and the measures used to address it.