117-Year Old Poor Relief Law to be Revamped


Senator Floyd Morris, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, has said that the Poor Relief Act, the existing legislation that governed the Jamaican social welfare system, had long outlived its purpose and would be revamped.
Cabinet has authorised the drafting of a National Assistance Act to replace the 117-year old law, the first draft of which has been circulated to key-stakeholders for discussion and recommendations.
At the first consultation held yesterday (Sept. 17) at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston, Senator Morrison expressed Government’s commitment to enacting new legislation, “to ensure that all our citizens, who fall within the poor and vulnerable categories, are adequately covered under the law.”
He added that the discussion was the first of many consultations to be carried out with the stakeholders, to hear their views on the new Bill.
According to the Senator, his Ministry has been given instructions to undertake the widest level of consultations to ensure that the views of all stakeholders would be adequately reflected in the final legislation.
After the consultations, the draft would be prepared for submission to the Cabinet and then taken to Parliament. The legislation, he said, should be enacted by the end of the year.
There were various concerns raised by the stakeholders. Key among them was whether the National Assistance Board, which is to be set up as part of the reform process, would serve a regulatory, legislative or an operational role. In addition, several persons noted that the language of the Bill needed to be revised. They suggested that words such as ‘almshouse’ and ‘aged’ needed to be substituted.
Faith Innerarity, Director of Social Security, pointed out that the language Bill reflected the ideology of the colonial period in which the Poor Relief Act had been implemented, and assured that these would be changed.
In explaining the function of the Board, Mrs. Innerarity said, “we will have an advisory board with an operational unit in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The operational unit will be responsible for the implementation of programmes, while the advisory board will overlook these activities.”
Senator Morris suggested that a sub-committee would be chosen from the stakeholders who were present, to guide the overall modifications to the draft, so as to avoid additional errors and ambiguity in the final legislation.
Giving an update on the process to reform the Social Safety Net, Senator Morris said that the first phase of the restructuring, which was to last from 2006 to 2007, had an estimated cost of US$61 million. The Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), which is also a component of the reform, is expected to cost US$78 million. Funding is being obtained in the form of loan and grant support from the Inter -American Development Bank and the World Bank.

JIS Social