Proposed changes to the Supplementary Means Test (SMT), for social grants, may result in some citizens being bumped off social programmes as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services Jacinta Bailey-Sobers said they should not have been there in the first place.
The changes are due to take effect in January. Bailey-Sobers was responding to Dr Nyan Gadbsy-Dolly as she chaired yesterday’s sitting of the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equally & Diversity.
The session was to inquire about citizens living in poverty and extreme poverty with a focus on vulnerable groups.
In her opening remarks, Gadsby-Dolly said an estimated 100,000 people were living in poverty. She raised concerns that there were many complaints about the SMT and its effects on citizens’ ability to access the grants.
Such issues included homes occupied by multiple families, where the welfare workers assess the household income as one.
The SMT was introduced in March 2018 to assess citizens’ eligibility for major grants, except for the Senior Citizens’ Pension.
Bailey-Sobers explained that the Ministry monitored the impact of the SMT on its clientele through feedback from the public and public sector. A team reviewed a report and the Ministry decided to get assistance from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to evaluate the SMT.
The Ministry got a report from ECLAC and recommendations were submitted to Minister of Social Development and Family Services Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn for review. Bailey-Sobers said there will be further discussion with ECLAC regarding implementation.
“We recognised that some people who fell off the grants, that they probably were not to be there in the first place, but there are some that really do still need to be supported. It may be not the income support, but it may be some other type of support that we need to give them in order to transition off the grant. So we are balancing the whole issue of the fact that we do have a robust measure of the poverty as we determine eligibility and that there are going to be some persons who are going to fall of legitimately and some who we really need some more investigations.”
Gadsby-Dolly inquired about citizens’ redress for poor service at the various welfare offices, citing more complaints of poor attitude by officers and their frequent loss of documents.
Bailey-Sobers said that while most of the Ministry’s workers were good, some were not treating their clients properly. This was why the Ministry recently introduced a ticket and receipt system which gives the clients proof that they visited the office on a particular date, which officers assisted him or her and which documents were supplied. Additionally, she said suggestion boxes were installed and the information management system that allows clients to track their applications was also being looked at.
The last Survey of Living Condition was done in 2005.
Back then, it showed that 16.1 per cent or an estimated 200,000 people lived in poverty.
Within that figure, approximately 15,000 or 1.2 per cent lived in abject poverty where they had little or no food daily to feed themselves and their families.