Squeezing the most vulnerable

It is a sad reality in New Providence that many of the most vulnerable are the least able to protect themselves from the more dangerous pitfalls of life.

Young children often walk to school through gang zones that vary from street to street in many inner city communities where gunfire can be a regular occurrence.

Many of these same students find themselves having to avoid sexual predators and other bad actors with tenuous morals.

Those without walls, gates and security systems are often the target of robbers and perpetrators of housebreakings.

And many people who do not think to lock or nail every possession down find that opportunists will loot and dismantle vehicles and steal anything criminals believe is worth more than a dollar.

No one has escaped the effects of the pandemic and the rising cost of just about everything.

However, the working class is taking a beating unseen in many years.

During the pandemic, thousands of businesses were closed.

Though the soundness and prolonging of those decisions are still being debated, the government of The Bahamas wisely did not leave the general public in a position to not know where the next meal would come from nor did it cut them off from avenues of assistance.

Whatever one thinks of former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, there is no question that he implemented a robust national feeding plan that helped to stave off hunger for thousands of families.

We are not sure we will ever understand Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis’ vociferous attacks on the program, but we do believe that Davis understands the level of need that existed then and still exists now.

The Central Bank of The Bahamas reported in March that domestic consumer price inflation rose to 2.3 percent in the last quarter of 2021, compared to the 0.2 percent registered during the same period in 2020. Gas prices have increased by more than $1 since the start of the year.

Despite Davis’ promise of government intervention to offset the rising cost of living, we have seen no direct evidence of this taking place, other than Bahamas Power and Light’s apparent reluctance to fully pass through the cost of electricity to consumers.

When the government held a job fair in Centreville this past weekend, Labour Minister Keith Bell appeared surprised that nearly 1,000 people from throughout New Providence showed up.

Bell said, “… We’re going to have to appeal even deeper to Cabinet for us to create some sort of jump start program and add to the 52-week program and other initiatives to at least get persons some sort of employment.”

Several of those waiting in line told stories of unemployment and underemployment where salaries are no longer able to cover the necessities of life.

The fact of the matter is that we currently have no idea what the unemployment rate actually is.

The last labor force survey was conducted by the Department of Statistics in December 2019. That survey placed unemployment at 10.7 percent.

A recent International Monetary Fund report indicated that unemployment was estimated at 25.6 percent in 2020 and projected at 18.1 percent in 2021.

Bell said he anticipates that new, official unemployment figures will be released “sometime in June”.

We find it curious, then, that his colleague, Minister of Social Services Obie Wilchcombe, said yesterday that because the number of people depending on the Department of Social Services’ food assistance program decreased by more than 50 percent last month, many people “are no longer in need of assistance”.

To his credit, Wilchcombe admitted the government does not want to “celebrate too quickly”.

There is no doubt the economy continues to grow.

And there is no question that employment is more robust this year than the first quarter of last year.

But there is no use in ignoring the obvious – inflation is squeezing the most vulnerable as they try to navigate an incredibly trying set of circumstances.

With those at the head of the Ministry of Finance refusing to roll back the elimination of the value-added tax zero rating on breadbasket items, the government must get creative in addressing the exigent needs of those who are barely holding on.

Attempting to wait the situation out could prove calamitous for many.

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