By Shaina Smith, Contributor
When you think about the increase in the cost of living in the Virgin Islands over the past 10 to 15 years for basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation, there is reason for concern as both men and women have to work two or more jobs to support their families, even with the increase in the minimum wage in 2016.
Early in 2018, the Ministry of Finance’s 2018-2020 medium-term fiscal plan showed that in the low- income category, which earns $0 to $13,469 per year (less than $900 per month after taxes), almost 36 percent were women and approximately 31 percent were men. The report also stated that women make 90 cents on the dollar when compared to men.
When you add this to the 2010 population census which reported that of the 10,830 households surveyed, 3,727 were headed by females and almost 33 percent of them were single-parents (men accounted for 3.4 percent), this is especially concerning as the average household has 2-3 children.
There are instances when this is further alarming when households may include ageing parents who may not be contributing to the household income through a pension or social security age benefit and the head of household has to support them as well. Considering the perceived wealth of our country, the next government needs to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our population with practical solutions that impact their quality of life and create opportunity for the next generation to progress upward.
The village is no longer as involved in raising its children and the migration of persons into communities, away from their family circles, for the sake of seeking job opportunities has also changed the social dynamic. So, considering all this, a multidimensional approach is needed to empower both parents, especially single mothers, and improve their ability to provide for their families adequately.
A few things I propose to be done are:
1. Increase to assistance grants that will help reduce house household expenses such as day-care and preschool fees for qualified persons so that their children can receive a good start in their formative years. We also need to increase assistance in the area of home care for elderly parents that are in the households.
2. Survey the educational background of women in this income bracket and create systems that afford women opportunities to upgrade professional skills through on-the-job training programs, online courses or night courses at HLSCC.
3. The social infrastructure development system should intersect with the education system on this matter where extra-curricular programs provide tutoring and after-school activities that help create a support system for those homes that need it. I would even propose a voucher system where parents receive assistance to enrol their children in extra-curricular programs such as KATS, Scouts, Girl Guides or sports teams to give access to all children to be developed holistically.
4. Cross-ministry collaboration is between social development and the justice system where child support regulations need to be revised to provide for deduction from wages. This is more conducive than incarcerating the non-custodial parent as they cannot support their families while in jail and only makes a difficult situation worse.
The 2017 Child Maintenance and Access Legislation speaks to garnishing of wages and suspension of the driver’s and other licenses. This is a critical priority I believe that the next government needs to put on its operational agenda and more funding needs to be allocated overall towards social development and education agencies (laws, policy, processes, human resources, etcetera) to foster our socio-economic development over the next decade.
Partnerships with civic organisations and churches should also be a part of this plan to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in providing a supportive environment around the family unit.
Having a $2 billion economy does not mean much if the society is shaky at its foundation – the family. We must be proactive in our approach to reducing the number of cases of child neglect and juvenile delinquency due to parents’ economic circumstance.
The focus ought to be on building the country by building its people. This will ensure that all levels of society have a decent quality of life and our children are given every opportunity to succeed.
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