11,000 residents of BES living below poverty line

One-third of the residents in the special municipali­ties Bonaire, Saba and St. Eusta­tius live below the poverty line. This was determined by research by the Dutch National Institute for Budget Information (Nibud) at the request of The Caribbean Nether­lands Social Minimum Committee.

On Friday, October 6, the Com­mittee presented their report to Dutch Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten and Caretaker State Sec­retary of Kingdom Relations Alex­andra van Huffelen. In this report, the Committee calls for a consider­able increase in minimum wage and social assistance.

Nibud’s research shows that around 11,000 persons in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (BES)live below the poverty line. “Against a population of around 30,000, that is a large number. Most of them have jobs but are poor all the same. When faced with adversity, they quickly sink through the bottom of existence resulting in all kinds of social problems”, says Committee Chairman Glenn Thodé.

Though the BES islands have been special municipalities of the Netherlands since 2010, there is no social minimum yet that ensures people can make ends meet and participate in society in a dignified man­ner. “Poverty is not normal, certainly not in a wealthy country like the Netherlands, of which these islands have been part of for 13 years. In recent years, the situation has only become worse. We must change this, and we can”, the chairman continues.

On Friday, October 6, Glenn Thode, Chairman of The Caribbean Netherlands Social Minimum Committee pre­sented the report A dignified existence: A social minimum that provides increasing prospects for self-reliance to Dutch Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions Carola Schouten and Caretaker State Secretary of King­dom Relations Alexandra van Huffelen.

At the Committee’s request, the National Institute for Budget Information (Nibud) determined how much house­holds in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba need in order to get by as an absolute minimum. The Committee emphasises that these islands are part of the country of the Nether­lands, and that the responsible government is in The Hague. “It should not matter where you live [in the Netherlands ­Ed.], but it does matter when it comes to your expenses,” says Thode at the presenta­tion of the report. Because of the islands’ small size and spe­cial economic circumstances, wages are lower than in the European part of the Nether­lands, while basic costs of liv­ing such as housing, transport, food and clothing are higher. For example, Nibud deter­mined that a single person living in a subsidised rental home in Bonaire needs at least US $1,517 for their monthly expenses. But since October 1, 2023, a single per­son can receive US $1,031 in social relief benefits, US $1,047 in pension benefits or US $1,236 in minimum wage. As a supplement, people on low incomes in the Caribbean Netherlands can also obtain an energy allowance of $108 USD per month.

Nevertheless, all three cases leave a significant gap between what is needed and what people have every month, meaning that both working people and non­working people face a consid­erable shortfall each month. In addition to these short­comings, there is a significant lack of social housing on the islands, which forces many people to rent homes on the — usually expensive — pri­vate market.

The Commission says to be pleased that the Dutch government will set aside 30 million euros next year to improve the purchasing power of the residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Among other things, this money will go towards increasing social benefits in the Caribbean Netherlands in 2024.

But in its report, the Com­mission calls for extra mea­sures. Because the poverty issue in the Caribbean Neth­erlands primarily affects the working poor, measures must also be taken that will im­prove their position, explains the Commission in a press release. Examples include an increase in the statutory mini­mum wage, the reduction of particular costs and the in­troduction of means-tested allowances.

According to Thodé, the report’s findings show that there is enough room for a social minimum. “Poverty means that there is no basis for security. If we provide such a basis, it will automati­cally create the chance of a better future and a rise in prosperity; this is the same throughout the world.”

Though in absolute terms the problem is not extremely large — the population of the three islands is not even the size of an average Dutch provincial town — the solu­tion will require joint efforts from Dutch ministries such as Social Affairs and Em­ployment or the Interior and Kingdom Relations, but also of other departments, such as the Ministries of Finance, Housing,

Infrastructure and the Envi­ronment, and Economic Af­fairs and Climate Policy, as well as the authorities of the public entities of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “What matters is the joint will to take steps”, he says. Because for the people on these is­lands, poverty “is a very seri­ous problem that needs to be solved quickly.”

The Daily Herald.

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