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Howai admits babycare grant not finalised
There are still some kinks to be worked out with the proposed $500 babycare grant, Finance Minister Larry Howai said yesterday. He admitted that he was not even sure whether the money allocated to babies born to underprivileged parents will run for just one year. The minister made the comment while fielding questions from the media after a post-budget panel discussion hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s.
There has been much discussion and criticism of the fund, with many saying it will lead to a further dependency syndrome. Saying the initiative fell under those responsible for social development, Howai said: “What they were thinking is that they wanted to see how that system would work and I am not sure that it is intended for only for one year.
“I think you will get the payment in the first year... in other words, it is not something that will be paid on an annual basis to the parent, as opposed to that it will only be for one year.” He said while he made the announcement of the fund in Monday’s budget, the programme’s final details still need to be worked out.
“While they did send forward the proposal with a costing which is included in the budget, I still need to go through the details of it to see exactly how they were proposing to roll it out in total,” Howai said. “As I understand it, they were looking at, potentially, some voucher system which would then be cashed at supermarkets which already cash the food card, but I need to actually sit down and go through the details of it.”
Vice-principal of the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus and professor of Gender, Social Change and Development Dr Rhoda Reddock, who was among the panellists, said there had been a lot of discussion in the media about the grant and a lot of it was unfortunate. “It really suggests almost a misogyny in the society but also, maybe, a belief that certain children are not as good as others.
“At the same time, for many parents there are many demands of that first year that need attention. “The babycare provision is based on a recommendation that something needs to be done to support parents in the managing of child-bearing and child-rearing,” Reddock said. But the grant, she added, must be part of a larger programme to support parents.
“Parenting in the 21st century is not 20th-century parenting and therefore the State and civil society all have the responsibility for the establishment of a social environment that allows reconciliation of work and family,” Reddock said. She said there was a common view that mothers should be responsible for their children and they should not have them if they “cannot mind them.”
“I always say that children do not choose their parents and they do not ask to be born, so children cannot be held accountable for their parents of the circumstances of their birth,” Reddock said.
Reddock: Social investment critical
Reddock said it was up to the society to ensure that all children have an equal chance to develop to their fullest potential. Saying investment in the social sector was also an economic development, Reddock said investments in the social sector equated to investment in people, in social stability and in human rights.
“Investment in the social sector today will reduce costs in other sectors in the future, in sectors like national security, the judiciary, the prison system... all of which are now being blown totally out of control. “Investment will also contribute to reductions in household and business expenditure and security, which is becoming one of our largest costs in any institution,” she added. Reddock said some of the major problems facing our society today were social, psychological and managerial.
“There is an impression shared by some of our leading economists and bilateral organisations that T&T is a bloated welfare state with too much expenditure on social programmes,” she said. She quoted a 2013 International Development Bank (IDB) report which then said that the country has an extensive social protection system with more than 120 programmes. “In T&T, despite the economic recovery, a structured system of social service delivery was not re-established.
“Unfortunately, we have focused mainly on a range of modalities for cash transfers which are in my opinion incorrectly referred to as social programmes and welfare provisions, but which in practice often become bases of political patronage,” Reddock said.
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