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Many living ‘fake’ socio-economic status

A section of the BVI capital, Road Town

While noting that salaries are relatively low and prices very high in the British Virgin Islands, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said its interviews within the community have shown that a number of people have been living a “fake socio-economic status”.

It added that people prefer to keep it fake, than to go against their ‘British Virgin Islands pride’ and ask for support.

UNICEF, in its 2016 report tabled in the House of Assembly this month, lamented the territory’s shortage of statistics, adding that it was forced to place great emphasis on qualitative information – including that gathered through interviews.

The organization said: “Adding to their vulnerable financial situation [in the BVI] is the high cost of living, where rental and consumption products are expensive, creating a perception that many families live from pay-check to pay-check, without room for extra expenses.”

“Qualitative evidence also shows that some families who struggle to match their salary to their expenses have a relatively high standard of living. According to the interviewees, these families have cable TV, a car and modern phones. Nevertheless, they live in a situation where any extra expense would push them over their monthly budget. Those interviewed called this behaviour ‘British Virgin Islands pride’. Due to pride, the families prefer to maintain a fake socio-economic status rather than ask for support,” added the international organization.

It also raised concern about the minimum wage which, at the time of the study, was $4 per hour. The minimum wage later increased to $6 per hour.

Eating cheap food such as noodle

UNICEF, in the 2016 report entitled Situation Analysis of the British Virgin Islands, also show said a number of families have no choice but to purchase cheap food that are not nutritious.

“…Families cope by buying cheap, not-so-nutritious food such as noodles, and there are increasing obesity issues among the population. High prices plus ‘British Virgin Islands pride’ contribute to families with children making hard choices, including having more than one job and cutting down on some expenses such as the lunch that children take to school.”

According to UNICEF, its research also shows that some students are absent from school due to poverty.

“In meetings with children from primary and secondary education, the majority mentioned that they knew someone who had not gone to school at least once in the previous month, because they did not have money for their lunch or could not bring lunch from home.”

“They (interviewees) all acknowledged that some families do not have enough money to provide for lunch. Children in primary education also mentioned that they could distinguish those children who have more goods from those who do not have them,” added the international organization.

We are not poor; we are vulnerable

UNICEF stated that, based on the interviews it conducted, people in the British Virgin Islands do not think poverty is a major issue. They prefer to substitute the word ‘poor’ with ‘vulnerable’.

“While most of those who were contacted confirmed the existence of pockets of poverty in the territory, the majority also agreed that the most appropriate terminology to be used would be ‘vulnerable person’ rather than ‘poor person’. The concept of poverty was rejected by some of those who were interviewed. But the idea that some groups do not have enough assets, live in very unstable socio-economic situations and, consequently, are more socially and economically vulnerable than others was generally acknowledged,” added UNICEF.

It reasoned: “An in-depth measurement of poverty may also include non-monetary poverty, which is captured by the different deprivations that children experience in health, education and protection – to name a few. A more appropriate discussion of poverty in the British Virgin Islands should involve the notion of deprivation. However, this approach depends on the availability of quantitative data.”

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