Dutch Ombudsmen: Poverty BES not just about money

Dutch Na­tional Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen and Ombuds­man for Children Margrite Kalverboer are once again calling for more direct action from the Dutch government to support the people in the Caribbean Netherlands, many of whom are still liv­ing in poverty. In their an­nual report, Van Zutphen and Kalverboer argue that poverty is not only about the financial aspect — it is also about proper housing, edu­cation, healthcare and social support.

Van Zutphen and Kalverbo­er emphasise that the newly-introduced social minimum on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is not enough. The Om­budsmen write that they have seen, also during their work visits to Bonaire, St. Eusta­tius and Saba (BES islands), that “still not enough has been done to improve the sit­uation of people in poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands. The issues that these people face are often more than just financial problems.”

On Thursday, November 28, 2023, Van Zutphen and Kal­verboer presented their re­port “Making ends meet” in Bonaire. This report reflects on three previous studies on poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands. It concludes that the situation for people living in poverty in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands has not improved sufficiently and that, despite earlier indica­tions, the action being taken to reduce poverty concerns in the Caribbean Nether­lands is still insufficient — and is taking too long.

In these reports, four rec­ommendations were made. First, government must, in addition to the social mini­mum, also look into proper public transport and debt re­lief. Second, the Dutch gov­ernment must ensure better housing and sufficient ac­commodation for vulnerable young people. Third, govern­ment must provide more op­portunities for education and training for both youngsters and adults, and must safe­guard after-school activities for children. Fourth, acces­sible childcare and elderly care are necessary measures to guarantee more care and support for various genera­tions.

“It is crucial that the gov­ernment tackles this because poverty within a family can have significant consequenc­es for the daily lives and de­velopment of children,” the Ombudsmen write. Poverty could become a vicious cycle, in which the situation could repeat itself in a later stage of their lives. According to Van Zutphen and Kalver­boer, this cycle could have serious consequences for persons of all ages: children, youngsters, (single) parents and the elderly.

The Ombudsmen also em­phasise that the Dutch gov­ernment must work together with the residents (both young and old) of the Carib­bean Netherlands to solve these issues, and must con­sider the cultural differences, the small scale of the islands and the existing lack of trust in the government.

In addition to the poverty is­sues in the Caribbean Neth­erlands, the Ombudsmen also looked into the handling of complaints by public en­tity Bonaire. In 2024,Van Zutphen will continue dis­cussions with administrators and other stakeholders in Bonaire, as well as starting these discussions with public entities Saba and St. Eusta­tius.

The Ombudsmen also or­ganised a round-table discus­sion with civil society groups in Bonaire. Participants spoke about the topics that align with the issues men­tioned in the poverty reports, such as housing, education and debt relief.

When it comes to educa­tion, participants emphasised the importance of sufficient meals, facilities and funding for secondary Vocational Ed­ucation and Training MBO, and structurally reliable transport. In addition, more attention must be paid to internships: both the organ­isation thereof and support for interning students. Ac­cording to the Ombudsmen, too often, students from the European Netherlands are selected rather than local people.

Housing is a general issue on the islands, write Van Zut­phen and Kalverboer. There is not enough social housing and insufficient assisted liv­ing options. Moreover, there is no campus where young persons can learn all about living alone and there is also no rent tribunal.

Lastly, the participants mentioned debt relief. This because many people in the Caribbean Netherlands make use of high-interest loans and do not know how to manage their personal fi­nances. “Therefore, increas­ing the minimum wage and social relief does not guaran­tee a better life,” it was con­cluded in the annual report.

The Daily Herald.

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