- A comprehensive social protection strategy was devised to ensure that the poor and vulnerable would not be left behind.
- The administration revved up the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), providing some 40,000 jobs under phase 2.
- The Government improved benefits under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), by some 16 per cent.
Thousands of Jamaica’s most vulnerable benefitted from the Government’s strategic policy of Social Inclusion during 2013.
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, told the nation during her 2013 Budget Debate presentation in the House of Representatives, in April, that protecting the most vulnerable – the poor, children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities – was the Government’s central concern, as it goes for growth and development and seek to unleash the nation’s full potential.
With this in mind, a comprehensive social protection strategy was devised to ensure that the poor and vulnerable would not be left behind, as the administration broadened opportunities for the acquisition of housing solutions; improved benefits under initiatives, such as the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH); improved local governance with the passage of certain Bills; and made a concerted effort to incorporate gender in development.
The administration revved up the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), providing some 40,000 jobs under phase 2; redesigned the Rural Economic Development Initiatives (REDI); and increased benefits under PATH to the elderly by some 67 per cent, while all other benefits, including that for the adult poor, disabled, and pregnant and lactating mothers increased by 15 per cent.
The increases under PATH, which took effect on August 15, represented a significant sum in light of the fact that the number of persons registering under the programme grew to almost 400,000. Further benefits under PATH were unveiled in August when the Labour and Social Security Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier, in an effort to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, allotted $100 million to tertiary students living in households supported by PATH. Some 1,000 students benefitted from this initiative through bursaries valuing $100,000 towards tuition fees, boarding costs or book expenses at institutions accredited by the University Council of Jamaica.
Children on PATH also received free lunch in all Government educational institutions, sometimes their main meal of the day. To ensure that these children were not discriminated against, the Ministry worked closely with the schools. It also began a programme to increase attendance in schools among PATH beneficiaries through a Compliance Intervention Strategy (CIS), beginning with four high schools in Clarendon, which it hailed a success.
The PATH Steps to Work programme was also enhanced with the view of empowering some beneficiaries to gain a level of independence and graduate from the programme.
The Government also improved benefits under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), by some 16 per cent. This impacted the elderly, sugar workers, widows/widowers, orphans as well as special child allowances.
Further demonstrating its commitment to protecting the vulnerable, the government continued the fight against child labour, through the Tackling Child Labour Through Education (TACKLE) project; made amendments to the Trafficking in Persons Act, which was passed in July; and revised the National Policy for Senior Citizens.
REGISTERING PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
The administration, through the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), went on a drive to have persons with disabilities registered in a national database as it sought to enhance its outreach programme. A series of fairs were held islandwide to increase the database to 50,000 and beyond.
The JCPD Executive Director, Christine Hendricks, informed that there are many disabled persons islandwide, who are unable to access the range of services available to them, either because of where they live or because they are unaware of these provisions. These services include: skills training; job placements; job coaching; housing benefits; the provision of rehabilitation grants for persons interested in starting small businesses; and a bus pass service, at a concessionary rate of $20, on Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses.
Other provisions include: assistive aids; school related assistance; and an economic empowerment grant provided to persons capable of managing a serious business venture, which ranges from $150,000 up to $400,000, if they are applying for assistance as a group.
In the meantime, the Early Stimulation Programme (ESP) continues to provide vital support to parents and caregivers of children with disabilities between the ages of 0 to six years.
There was also movement on the legislative side to promulgate the Disabilities Bill to protect this vulnerable group.
Pursuing its policy of broadening opportunities for housing solutions and ownership, the government through the National Housing Trust (NHT), completed 1,491 housing solutions and provided interim financing for a further 1,987 which were delivered by private developers. Solutions were handed over in Longville Park
Phase 3, Clarendon; lots in Perth, Manchester; Creighton Hall, St. Thomas; Nashville, St. Mary and Hellshire Phase 4.
Some 48 two and three bedroom apartments were delivered under the inner city housing development in Majesty Gardens, Kingston, in December; and approximately153 under the First Step Housing project.
The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) also did its part in providing housing solutions. Some 1,584 housing solutions are being provided at Bernard Lodge Estate, St. Catherine as well as 173 studio units in Whitehall, Phase 3, in Westmoreland.
In addition, hundreds of units are being provided under the sugar workers barracks relocation exercise, funded by the European Union.
The Government, through the Ministry of Social Security, also started the Social Housing Project. Some 48 houses were earmarked for construction at a cost of $20 million under the pilot phase of the project and are for beneficiaries under the PATH programme.
Some units are complete and have been handed over. In addition, the Prime Minister mandated that under each new housing development, special arrangements be made to include the homeless, low income workers and young persons in its allocation of units.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM
In the meantime, the process of Local Government Reform continued to be strengthened. Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Noel Arscott informed in November that drafting of the proposed Disaster Risk Management Bill, which seeks to strengthen the country’s overall national disaster preparedness, emergency management and response processes and mechanisms through a range of measures, is far advanced.
He also informed that the ‘No Building’ Zone Bill is now at the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. This legislation will empower the Government to prevent construction in disaster-risk areas and will also include compulsory evacuation where there is imminent danger.
Several of the island’s infirmaries, which fall under the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, were also upgraded during the year providing a more comfortable surroundings for the infirmed.
EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN
Jamaica has been recognized internationally for its role in the empowerment of women, in particular for closing the gender gap for women in public administration. Locally, the Government continues to take steps to incorporate gender in development.
The Bureau of Women’s Affairs developed a National Policy for Gender Equality which promotes fairness and equal justice for women and men at all levels of society; developed a manual to tackle gender based violence; and engaged in an islandwide public education campaign, aimed at promoting gender equality.
Also, the Universal Service Fund upgraded the computer laboratory at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation’s Trafalgar Road headquarters in St. Andrew at a cost of $3.5 million in 2013. The lab was outfitted with 20 computers, a server, printer, uninterruptible power supply (UPS), wiring, and benefitted from other infrastructural works for the young women who use the facilities. The Centre addresses the problems of interrupted education and the accompanying social issues associated with teenage pregnancy.
The combination of projects offered across Ministries and Departments of Government helped to provide a level of social protection and security for the most vulnerable, as the Government proceed towards achieving its goal of empowering Jamaicans to reach their full potential, as set out in Vision 2030, Jamaica’s National Development Plan.