Daly Bread: Gov’t must do more for ‘working poor’ who suffer most from pandemic

If anyone had cared to pay attention before Covid-19, they would know that life is a daily hustle for a significant number of citizens. These citizens have no employer and they are usually poor.

There are also a significant number of citizens who have an employer but, in the absence of collective bargaining, their pay does not lift them above the poverty line.

The two groups identified above are known as the working poor. They received an immediate crushing blow when Covid-19 interrupted the economy. Before Covid-19, many of those households were poor but able to provide meals, however basic. Once Covid struck the economy, these households were rapidly reduced to starvation level and to potential homelessness if rent could not be paid.

Photo: Smoothie vendor, Dr Fresh, operates his stall in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
(Copyright flight centre.ca)

Real live examples of persons in these two groups are now featured in the media.  The government claims the expanded social safety net is capturing these persons but there is room for grave doubt about this claim because of the unimaginative and out-of-touch bureaucratic strings, which the government attached to receiving this aid.

Accessing the aid is tied to ‘registration’ with ministries or bodies whose registration systems have been lackadaisically managed without follow-up or enforcement. Additionally, there is no reliable data on the self-employed, who are genuinely working but are outside the officially recognised gates.

Our loose governance past has caught up with us but it is not the rulers who are getting hurt. What guard rails for the disadvantaged will the proposed road to economic recovery provide?

There is a third group inhabiting the day to day economic culture. These persons comprise the group that has no regular hustle. At one end of the spectrum, they may live on NGO provided meals and/or ‘hampers’ and at the other end of the spectrum on the benefaction of dons and their associates.

Real ‘dead’ examples of some of this third group are also featured in the media, where their corpses regularly make their appearance. My views on the origins of this group arising out of the mis-management of the aftermath of the attempted coup in 1990 and their subsequent appeasement by the late Patrick Manning’s PNM and successive governments are well recorded.

Photo: Port of Spain South MP Marlene McDonald (second from left) poses with alleged gangster Cedric Burke (third from left) and President Anthony Carmona (fourth from left) after her swearing in ceremony as Minister of Public Utilities on 30 June 2017.

The deadly economic strike of Covid-19 on the lives of the hustling and working poor was immediate, because citizens in that group can only manage to live from day to day and have little or no savings. The result is that these citizens and their children are currently suffering from widespread hunger—a situation that is shameful in a country where two sets of huge energy sector revenues passed through like the proverbial dose of salts.

It is accurate to describe this situation as a culture, because the effects of the inequality infect vital aspects of the lives of these citizens, particularly cruelly deprived generations of children.

One of the most troubling infections is the reduction of equality of opportunity once a youngster is rooted in this bare survival culture. A food card cannot put disadvantaged children on an equal footing. As indicated last week, one must hope for a radical rethink of the old economic model, which may now fail at a crucial time.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Health has belatedly liberated itself from the restrictions of the Carpha (Caribbean Public Health Agency) case definition. I urged it to do so weeks ago, specifically arguing against putting all our eggs in the one Carpha basket.

It appears that we have not tested even a half of one percent of the population. Was such a restricted testing policy likely to provide an accurate picture of how many Covid-19 cases we have?

Photo: Ministry of Health CMO Dr Roshan Parasram.

Now it has seen the light, the Ministry must be realistic about its choices for random testing. Realism requires focus on areas that lack a regular supply of water, like the five southern villages recently highlighted on television news.

Waterless communities like those would have challenges meeting stricter requirements for washing hands and utensils, through no fault of their own. They deserve offers of special attention.

As we attempt to move forward, let’s hope for a lasting clean break from the first wave of Covid-19.

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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