Following criticism from former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham over the government’s decision to slash uniform assistance to the poor, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell insisted yesterday the cut is “not an issue”.
However, the minister added that the Minnis administration will review how that move has impacted the public during the mid-year budget review and will provide additional funding if necessary during that exercise.
Last week, Ingraham said the government should reverse its decision to slash uniform assistance for the poor.
“I want to say that governments have to do what they have to do,” said Campbell when asked about Ingraham’s criticism of the decision.
“All governments at some point in time would have cut something. I want to say that I’m satisfied at this point that no one has yet been disenfranchised as a result of any cut.
“I’m satisfied that if it becomes necessary to make some variations in funding to cover things, as would have been done in the past, all governments would have either shifted funds from one place to another place if it was discovered that more funds were needed.
“Those flexibilities still exist with this government. So, the issue with the cut hasn’t affected anyone thus far. There are still resources there so the cut is not an issue.”
But Shadow Minister for Social Services Glenys Hanna-Martin said the Minnis administration is building a track record of ignoring the cries of the poor.
“I would query why would you give free gas allowance to ministers… that make a fairly good wage but cut back on assistance to the poor,” Hanna-Martin said.
“These are the sort of questions that we have to ask ourselves.”
The Department of Social Services’ uniform assistance has been cut from $360,000 last year to $270,000 this year, a difference of $90,000.
When asked what message the government has sent by cutting uniform assistance, Ingraham said, “It speaks for itself, so it couldn’t possibly have been a considered decision.”
Campbell admitted that the move casts the administration in a negative light.
“I don’t think it is positive publicity, but I think it is safe to say that the government is mindful of its responsibility and wherever it is necessary for additional funds, there will be additional funds,” he said.
Meantime, Hanna-Martin also called on the minister to address immediately the concerns related to the re-issuance of bank cards for food assistance. Cards began to expire in March.
“This issue with the cards, this has been prolonged,” Hanna-Martin said.
“I raised it in Parliament. The minister said it was being addressed. This is causing incredible hardship with people. And you know any respectable nation ensures that the weakest among us does not fall between the cracks.”
She said the government seems to lack an appreciation for what people are going through in The Bahamas.
“This government should be ashamed,” she added.
The minister said a lag in the re-evaluation process for those on food assistance has delayed the process.
He said some cards have been issued, and in other cases, food vouchers are being handed out.
Campbell added that while the system will never be perfect, the ministry is working to raise the standard.
Education: Benedict College, BA in Mass Communications