Notes From a Native Son: Material Poverty and the Poverty of Ideas, An Issue for Government

Hal Austin

The present government – which has been in control for most of the post-internal self-government years and after four years at the helm this time round  – has suddenly realised that poverty is a major social problem in Barbados. As the old people used to say, it is better late than never – even if we are talking about a nation that pats itself on the shoulder repeatedly telling the world how developed it now is and about its 99 per cent literacy and is prepared to roll out the methodologically flawed UN Human Index report as evidence. Both fictions, of course, but why allow such facts, with their brutish, painful reality, to get in the way of  a good story.

The real scandal of post-independence Barbados is the recent government’s admission that nearly 20 per cent of Barbadians (19.3 per cent) are living on annual incomes below $7861, in other words, abject poverty. In real terms, that means over 50000 Barbadians are living on about $150 a week, with the likely figure much higher, if we were to include those who are two pay days away from losing their homes. We can be certain that most of the official poor will be the elderly, young unemployed, single parents, the disabled and people with mental problems. Further, with inflation running at about 12 per cent, VAT on food, clothes, and other essentials, the people who can least afford it are paying a high price for government manipulation of the inflation numbers.

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