The United National Congress (UNC) has challenged Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Cabinet to attempt to survive on the monthly grants given to pensioners and disabled persons.
The challenge was issued by St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen and Chaguanas East MP Vandana Mohit during the Opposition’s weekly media briefing yesterday.
Ameen said: “I challenge any government minister to try to survive on a $2,000 disability grant. Put yourself on what a pensioner or a disability grant recipient gets and then let us have a real review about social welfare programmes.”
Ameen and Mohit claimed that since taking office, Rowley and his Government had taken steps to reduce the number of citizens who benefited from the Food Support Programme, with a further review into the programme being announced by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services in January.
“This Government is removing persons from the social safety net and leaving them to wander,” Mohit said.
“They are limiting access to the social programmes when it is most needed when persons are facing high food bills and are struggling to pay utilities,” she added.
The duo suggested that the reduction in the reach of the programme, coupled with an economic downturn that began before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was causing immense stress on women, who traditionally manage food within households.
“Women in this country are bawling when they look at their grocery bills...We are seeing now where people are living day to day, not month to month,” Mohit said.
Referring to a general increase in international food and energy prices due to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, Ameen suggested that fluctuations in imported food prices could be mitigated if the Government had actually developed the agricultural sector as promised.
“Don’t come now and blame the prices on the war in Ukraine. We cannot control the war in Ukraine but what we can control is agricultural access roads, water supply, drainage and irrigation,” Ameen said.
Ameen claimed that under the former People’s Partnership government led by Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, numerous initiatives were introduced for farmers, such as infrastructural development and financing arrangements through the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB). However, she noted that such initiatives were removed when there was a change of government following the 2015 general election.
“Those things do not reap immediate rewards and have to be maintained,” Ameen said.
Dealing with the safety of women, Ameen and Mohit questioned why pepper spray has not become widely available after Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi piloted legislation for the same, last year.
“Where is the pepper spray? You keep saying it’s coming but it’s not reaching,” Mohit said.
“You can have more and more legislation but that is never going to solve the social issues, that this government is failing to deal with if you do not have action,” Ameen added.
The media conference came a day after the women’s arm of the UNC hosted a demonstration outside the Penal market to protest rising food prices and crime.