Tough socio-economic times in Montserrat since the onset of volcanic activity have given rise to a host of vulnerable persons being rendered unable to help themselves to live at a basic acceptable standard. Because of this, the Government through the Social Welfare Department, decided to assist these poor, unfortunate persons with an allowance of EC$600 per month to cover the cost of food, utilities, toiletries, clothing and rent in some cases. The majority of the persons assisted are incapable of working because of mental, physical and/or old age limitations.
In 2008, The Government of Montserrat commissioned The Montserrat Association of Retired Persons to conduct a review of the Social Welfare assistance programme. The Review Report stated that the EC$600 monthly allowance was grossly inadequate to meet the basic needs of the recipients. The study suggested that the monthly allowance be adjusted upwards to reflect basic nutritional requirements and cover basic utilities. It suggested an increase in the monthly allowance to EC$1,215 per head of household per month, and EC$1,025 per month for any other member in the household that was under the scheme.
When the Report had been conducted, the volcanic crisis had been ongoing for fifteen (15) years, and the adverse socio-economic conditions were continuing to cause severe hardship to these more vulnerable citizens in our society. This state of affairs has been further made worse by the sharp rise and increasing cost of basic necessities and overall living expenses in Montserrat.
According to the Review Report: The niceties of a balanced diet and good nutritional habits are luxuries which cannot fit into their allowances at present levels. The risk of developing and exacerbating chronic diseases because of poor nutrition, cannot be factored by them into the money equation. They feel they just must seek to make ends meet.
This reality reflects a desperate existence in Montserrat for some of our citizens. Retaining the current level of payment not only compounds the situation, but makes the overall position worse, because if the welfare recipients do not eat healthily this would only increase their health care costs which falls back on the Government.
The fact that the recipients are primarily elderly persons, makes the situation graver because since adequate tertiary health care is not available on island, the Government would find itself morally responsible to assist these persons with necessary overseas medical treatment at prohibitive costs. Whilst acknowledging the current demands and pressures on Government, the care of
our most vulnerable in the community must take priority on moral and humanitarian grounds in any modern society.
The attitude of some persons in authority to these unfortunate individuals: Ley them go find hard work foo do is both insensitive and painfully unrealistic, for as the Report indicated, the majority of the persons are well over 60 years old, and many have varying degrees of disability. Additionally, as is also pointed out in the Report, the majority of these persons have no other source of income - no pension, no Social Security or other form of assistance.
How can we as Montserratians continue to be so hard-hearted as to continue to turn a deaf ear to these profound, heart- wrenching cries of our fellow citizens, currently condemned to a diet of malnutrition and deprivation? Montserratians, what has our society come to? Don't we have a moral responsibility to outreach to the most vulnerable in our community, who are incapable of providing for themselves, and ensure that they can attain at the very least a basic and healthy level of human dignity?
Photo Credit To Better Everything