Budgeting is very important for low-income earners.
This was one of the lessons shared during Sunday’s first virtual pre-budget consultation hosted by THA Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Farley Augustine in the first instalment of a seven-part series titled Make it Make Cents.
Augustine said over the past three weeks, he has been meeting with several subgroups to ascertain their needs.
The theme for the first part of the series was "Who in the kitchen does feel the heat," and focused solely on women's issues ahead of the budget. The consultations, Augustine said, allow for greater inclusivity and participation.
He described the exercise as "a mammoth task considering that I have a team working well into the night; every night we analyse and prepare the budget report to be presented and debated in the house later this month.”
He said according to the United Nations, women economic empowerment includes women’s ability to participate equally in existing markets; their access to and control of productive resources; access to decent work; control over their own time, lives and bodies; and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels – from the household to the international institutions.
He said it also includes “achieving the sustainable development goals particularly goal number five – to achieve gender equality; goal number eight – to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; and also goal number one – ending poverty; goal number two on food security; goal number three on ensuring health; and number 10 – reducing inequalities.”
Representing the interest of low-income workers, Cepep employee Lorita Bissoona, 52, a mother of eight from James Street in Goodwood, took part in a video demonstration of budgeting. She was given her $991.90 fortnightly salary as an unskilled worker and was videotaped as she did her normal shopping at a local supermarket.
“The cost of living in Tobago is very high," she said.
"I’m working for at least $900 per fortnight and my family is very big – ten of them. Food items is very expensive in Tobago so on my budget, I live from pay check to pay check. Every fortnight, I come to the grocery and I take up the important things that I need – flour, sugar, oil, ketchup, toothpaste, soap, garlic, toilet paper. I does shop around and take up the cheapest things in the grocery, just for the money to reach.”
Tanelle Harrilal, senior manager, retail banking, First Citizens Canaan branch added: “Yes, the situation seems a little grim, but understanding that necessity is the mother of innovation and invention and when you have what you have, you budget.”
She said it is important for women to empower themselves.
“So some of the things that we can probably do is learn a skill, so that while you have the Cepep, there are also other things that you can trade."
She said it is important to teach young people the importance of reducing their expenses through budgeting.
"It is encouraged for all; it could be $5, it could be $1, it could be 50 cents, if we inculcate that from very young.”
Bissoona also discussed some of the tough decisions that are made in low-income households.
She said that her daughter, who is in sixth form at Speyside High School, wants to study to be a pathologist but intends to put that on pause to get a job to help the family.
Bishop's High School Economic teacher Alana Alleyne said that there are psychological and economic costs to delaying one's dream.
“I’ve seen on many occasions where with good intentions, you start working and then you get distracted. Then probably five, six, seven, ten years after, you’re now ketching yourself.”
She added: “Things are getting more expensive, things are getting harder and harder by the minute – it’s not just for the Cepep persons. So the fact is, by the time she is probably ready, she may not have access to GATE (government assistance for tuition expenses)."
The discussions continued on Monday with stakeholders from the creative industries.