Living on next to nothing


GOVERNMENTS like to boast about how much they are spending to support the vulnerable through subsidies, allowances, grants and special relief programmes.

But the story of Carl McIntosh – highlighted in this newspaper on Monday – is a reminder that these systems often do not work as well as they should.

Mr McIntosh, a taxi driver, was the victim of violent crime in 2009: he was robbed and shot. He survived, but surgeons amputated his left leg. Left in a wheelchair, he almost died by suicide, but survived. But he could not work.

Such a person would seem the classic case of someone who qualifies for assistance from the State. Yet Mr McIntosh says he was refused assistance because he was homeless. After being discharged from the Port of Spain General Hospital, he squatted at the back of the premises.

This situation went on, incredibly, for a decade until renovations to the hospital made his stay untenable and Mr McIntosh met the founder of the NGO Homeless Office Assistance, Anthony Salloum. A few weeks ago, Mr McIntosh finally moved into a new apartment.

It is understandable that the State needs to be vigilant against people trying to abuse its systems. But it is baffling that no administrator knew or understood the nature of Mr McIntosh’s situation. In effect, he was denied help because of how much help he needed.

Whether this was due to miscommunication or simply lack of care, it points to the fact that the State’s mechanisms sometimes do not work as they should: they are not getting to those most in need.

In the case of covid19 relief packages, the problem seems to be the opposite of that faced by Mr McIntosh. We are told that instead of people being denied grants, they are being facilitated to the extent that they are “double-dipping.”

Auditor General Lorelly Pujadas’s annual report – covering the period October 2019-September last year – suggested 2,672 people potentially accessed $8.1 million in grants twice when they should not have. Total salary relief grant payouts amounted to $186.2 million.

These findings led Minister of Social Development Donna Cox to declare double-dippers will not be punished but will be “red-flagged.”

While the State should be vigilant against bobol, the truth is double-dipping – for grants of $1,500 per month, up to three months – is a sign that these measures are insufficient.

Their conditions of access may also be confusing or unclear. Like Mr McIntosh, these people are also slipping though the cracks, though, unlike him, they have benefited as a result.

Still, it is hard to imagine both relatively newly unemployed people and people like Mr McIntosh living on these grants alone. That tells us the State and the private sector need to do more either to help them or, as soon as possible, to help them become self-sufficient again.


"Living on next to nothing"

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