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JIS News

The Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) is continuing its mission to better the life of the country’s most poor and vulnerable, through social assistance initiatives as well as the promotion of good health and education.
There are 243,000 beneficiaries registered with PATH, which is more than 100 per cent of the original target, when the programme was rolled out in 2002, with a target of 236,000. Speaking with JIS News, Director of PATH, Colette Roberts-Risden, explains that in 2006/07, there were approximately 220,000 registered beneficiaries but that this has increased by some 20,000 during the past year.
The breakdown of beneficiaries shows 71,000 in the zero to six age group; 110,000 in the six to 17 age group; 36,000 over the age of 60; 6,000 disabled persons; 1,000 pregnant and lactating women; and 18,000 poor relief beneficiaries. The Government recently expanded the target for the programme to 252,000 beneficiaries, “so we still have scope to add more persons,” Mrs. Roberts-Risden says.
Since inception, some $6 billion has been expended on the programme, and approximately $5.4 billion on benefits. The PATH Director notes that while the compliance rate averages some 87 per cent, one of the main areas where persons complain of having difficulty is in getting the children to school particularly in rural areas, as transportation costs are higher.
Mrs. Roberts-Risden says the problem affects children mainly at the secondary level, as these students have to travel much further than those at the basic and primary levels.
Under a pending US$40 million loan agreement with the World Bank, this, among other issues, will be addressed. The agreement will effect far-reaching reform of the social safety net system, under the second phase of the reform programme.
This phase will involve improvement of the effectiveness of PATH; building capacity for welfare to work; improving the administration of the public sector pension system; building capacity for the completion of pension reform; and the development of a holistic social protection strategy. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sport, Faith Innerarity, explained at a recent post-Cabinet press briefing that beneficiary families will still be provided with grants, but that “there will be some differentials in terms of what is given.”
This, she said, is related to the transition from primary to secondary school, as there are a number of students, who are unable to move on to the secondary level, because of financial issues. Specifically, at the grade seven level, PATH beneficiaries will be receiving a benefit that is 50 per cent higher than the normal core benefit provided under the programme. In addition, students who are moving on to grade 10 will receive a benefit that is 75 per cent higher than the core benefit.
Mrs. Innerarity said that of importance are the gender-related difficulties that had been identified, with males at a severe disadvantage in terms of educational attainment. Consequently, there will be a further incentive for boys, who will get a higher grant to encourage them to remain in school. There will also be a one-off grant or bonus for students moving to tertiary institutions.
“Education is important in terms of social mobility, to move people out of poverty, but in order for this to be achieved, attaining a tertiary level education is of critical importance, hence the second phase of the social safety net reform is seeking to build on the earlier phase, to introduce new elements that would ensure, not just a short-term poverty alleviation programme, but really lead toward the achievement of the longer term goals,” she explained.
According to the Permanent Secretary, the welfare to work aspect of the programme will be pushed, as there are a number of persons within the beneficiary household, who, although they are in the economically active age group, also need assistance.
“This assistance must be in a different form, in terms of the provision of employment,” she noted, adding that students, who benefit from PATH, do need some level of support in making that transition from school to work.
“And so the welfare to work programme, which is a new component, will be addressing this and will seek to build capacity in terms of assisting persons to make that transition,” Mrs. Innerarity informed.In terms of the long-term holistic strategy, the second phase of the safety net reform programme will look at the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
“Currently, a large proportion of the workforce is in the informal sector and not contributing to the social insurance scheme. Later, these persons become a burden in terms of social assistance programmes, so a part of the reform is to strengthen the social insurance programme by ensuring greater compliance and encouraging more persons in the informal sector to participate,” Mrs. Innerarity said.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Roberts Risden says the cash card system, which was introduced last year as a pilot, has been receiving good response, with some 2,000 families receiving their payments via this method.
“It has been a gradual increase, and we have been deliberately doing that, because many of our beneficiaries are in deep rural areas and we don’t want beneficiaries to accept the cash card and it becomes an inconvenience for them to get their benefits, because of course they need to be close to ATM machines,” she explains.
An evaluation of the pilot was done, involving more than 70 families, and Mrs. Roberts-Risden says that “the families were very happy for the cash card method of payment. It allowed them flexibility.
Persons felt encouraged, because they now felt a sense of independence when they can take out a card and pay for their goods at the supermarket or wherever accepts the card. We do have some areas in terms of training the beneficiaries how to properly use the card. Overall the feedback has been positive”.
The reform of the social safety net system was launched in 2000 and was fully implemented in 2002, with PATH being the main element. Mrs. Innerarity said PATH has recorded “appreciable success” in terms of encouraging poor families to send their children to school.
This has been done through the provision of grants and their specific conditionalities in terms of school attendance and health checks for children, babies, and for pregnant and lactating women. Despite the success, she said, it has become necessary for PATH to be more effective, as there has been a number of supply side difficulties, linked to issues such as the cost and inadequacy of transportation, unemployment, and the cost of school supplies.
In the last financial year, PATH was allocated $1.46 billion to provide better, and more cost-effective social assistance to the poor and most vulnerable in the society.
It was anticipated that during this fiscal period, the programme would make monthly payments to eligible beneficiaries; implement an electronic payment system; complete the establishment of an information system to support the efficient management of the programme; continue the institutionalization phase of the programme; continue the re-certification exercise of all PATH beneficiaries; and complete the legislative framework of the programme.
In addition to providing benefits to the most vulnerable, PATH aims to consolidate major income transfer programmes into unified benefit programmes that ensure meaningful levels of benefits; a cost-efficient and accessible delivery system; and access to benefits linked to desirable behaviour changes for promoting investment in human capital and development of the poor, especially children.