AMID ALL the uncertainty foisted upon us by the covid19 pandemic, it has been comforting to think that, at the very least, we are all in this together, that this is a disease that does not discriminate. Even with some groups deemed at greater risk, the measures now in place are so widespread that no person has been left untouched: young, old, rich, poor – no nationality, no race, no creed, nobody is unaffected.
And yet, the reality is that there are currently hundreds of thousands of people who are dramatically less capable of weathering this storm on their own. Not only must the State prolong and expand its existing support to care for the most vulnerable, but we must as a society come to terms with the inequalities of this place, inequalities that, after covid19, will have to be reckoned with.
Consider the figures given by Social Development and Family Services Minister Camille Robinson-Regis on Wednesday. It’s not just the expenditure of $46 million in special relief for myriad measures such as the $510 food cards. Nor is it only a question of the estimated 75,600 families that have benefitted to date.
It’s also the fact that the ministry has continued to service its regular commitments in the form of grants and other forms of relief. According to the minister, the State will maintain those commitments during this very difficult time of reduced revenues across the board. Those commitments are not insubstantial.
On a monthly basis, the State forks out $437 million in support to an estimated 168,950 people. In other words, even before covid19 happened, the State had been supporting vulnerable individuals to the tune of at least $5.2 billion a year. These figures alone give the lie to the notion that we are all equal. Yes, we must all now close ranks. We must all be in this together. But some of us will need help, more than others, if we are all to survive what is in no uncertain terms an economic catastrophe.
The newly unemployed, the underemployed, the disabled, the seniors, the young people who rely on the State to meet the most basic nutritional requirements – these represent the tip of the iceberg. Despite entreaties from leaders, economic contraction tends to affect workers hard. Low revenues imperil livelihoods even for those who are, for the moment, employed.
And we cannot say how long this will last.
Many people exist from month to month, week to week, pay slip to pay slip, barely covering expenses. Such people do not have the luxury of vast reserves of savings, or if they do have been putting money aside for things like education or medical emergencies.
Covid19 shows that unless we address inequality, when the next wave comes it will not be enough merely to say we in this together.