Caribbean Netherlands entitled to a dignified social minimum

Not or barely having enough money to live on, never being certain of your future: for many Dutch people in the special municipalities of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius this is the everyday reality. Until now, these islands have not really had an adequate social system like the one in place for decades in the European part of the Netherlands. This does not befit a country that has anchored equality as a legal fundamental right for all its residents. The Caribbean Netherlands Social Minimum Committee has investigated how a simple and effective system guaranteeing a social minimum can be introduced on these three Dutch islands. The Committee also examined the prerequisites for such a system. Its conclusion is that with a proper budgeting method and a systematic approach per household type, a social minimum can be introduced that will produce results equivalent to those in the European part of the Netherlands. This will require a considerable increase in minimum incomes. The Committee’s report was presented today to Carola Schouten, the Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions, and Alexandra van Huffelen, the State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitalisation.

Glenn Thodé, the Committee Chairman, explains: “Poverty is a vicious circle. Around 11,000 residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba – young people, elderly people and families with children – are living 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. Poverty is not normal, certainly not in a wealthy country like the Netherlands, of which these islands have been part for 13 years. In recent years, the situation has only become worse. We must change this, and we can.”

Solutions for a dignified social minimum

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 and to participate in society. To this end, Nibud used price information from sources such as Statistics Netherlands and held talks with experts and residents on each island. The result is a realistic picture of the income a household needs as an absolute minimum. The wages on the islands are low, but the costs of basic needs such as housing, transport, food, and clothing are high.

The difference between the current situation and what is needed

A single person living in a subsidized rental home in Bonaire needs at least 1,517 USD for monthly expenses. Since the 1st of October of this year, a single person receives 1,031 USD in social relief benefits. The old-age pension for retired people is 1,047 USD. Effective from this year, the statutory minimum wage is 1,236 USD. As a supplement, people on low incomes in the Caribbean Netherlands can also obtain an energy allowance equivalent to 108 USD per month. This means that both working people and non-working people face a considerable shortfall each month. What makes the situation even more difficult is the lack of social housing, which forces many people to rent on the private rental market.

Government’s commitments for next year

The Committee is pleased to hear that the government will set aside €30 million next year to improve the purchasing power of the residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Among other things, this money will go towards social benefits increase in the Caribbean Netherlands in 2024. The Committee’s work has made it possible to determine this increase. In its report, the Committee shows how this can be done, and what other measures are required. Since the poverty issue in the Caribbean Netherlands primarily affects the working poor, measures must also be taken that will improve their position. Examples include an increase in the statutory minimum wage, the reduction of particular costs and the introduction of means-tested allowances.

The opportunity in front of us

Glenn Thodé observes the following on this point: “It is not complex or difficult. With our investigation, we show that there is enough room for this 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. This is not only the responsibility of 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. Finally, it should not be made any more complicated than it is: the Caribbean Netherlands does not yet have a complex regulatory system such as that in the European part of the Netherlands. This enables simple solutions. Besides, 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. For the people on these islands, however, it is a very serious problem that needs to be solved quickly.”

Information about the Committee:

The Caribbean Netherlands Social Minimum Committee was set up in March of this year, following a motion proposed by Jorien Wuite, Member of Parliament for D66. The Committee’s task was to investigate how much a number of household types need in order to get by and to participate in society in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The Committee also looked at the system to guarantee a social minimum, including possible scenarios and the way in which the system can be better aligned to the needs of a number of household types in order to get by and to participate in society in a broader economic context. In addition to the Chair, Dr G.A.E. Thodé, the Committee consists of Mr G. Berkel BSc, Mr P.R.J. Comenencia MA, Mr B.F. El Hage, Ms S.A. Heilbron, Mrs C.A. Ortega-Martijn BSc, Professor W.L. Roozendaal and Dr A. Vliegenthart


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