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2% increase raises interest in poverty reduction strategy

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

A ministry paper tabled in the Senate last Friday by the Government has indicated that there was a two per cent increase in the national poverty rate between 2016 and 2017.

Ministry Paper 51 for 2019, which dealt with matters considered by the Cabinet at its meeting on June 10 this year, noted that a report from the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service on the poverty rates for 2017, calculated from the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) data, has shown that in 2017 the economy grew by one per cent and registered an increase in the number of people employed by 26,200 by July 2017.

However, it said that despite the positive out-turn, the overall poverty rate increased by 2.2 percentage points to 19.3 per cent, up from the 17.1 per cent recorded in 2016. The ministry paper said this was due to increases in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) and other towns.

It also stated that the overall increase in poverty reflected regional increases of 5.2 per cent in the KMA, which covers Kingston and St Andrew and adjoining sections of St Catherine, and a 4.1 per cent increase in other towns, which would include major towns without city status.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown used the opportunity of the Senate's debate on the Pensions (Superannuation Funds and Retirement Schemes) (Investment)(Amendment) Regulations, 2019, which broadens the range of permissible assets in which pension funds can invest, to raise the poverty issue on Friday, despite the Government's protestation that it was not directly related to the issue being debated.

However, in raising it in the Senate he triggered the attention of others, including the press, which had not received copies of the ministry paper when it was tabled in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The ministry paper informed the Parliament that, conversely, the poverty recorded for Rural Areas, which would include all areas outside of the KMA and the other towns, had remained similar to the rates recorded in 2016, which were 20.1 per cent for 2017 compared to 20.5 per cent for 2016.

The Ministry Paper said that the JSLC report singled out the KMA, which recorded declines for four consecutive years prior to 2017, registering the largest increase in poverty in 2017, reflecting a 30 per cent decline in the mean per capita income, which is the measurement of the average consumption per person. An increase in poverty was also recorded for other towns, which worsened the standard of living for that region for the second consecutive year.

The ministry paper said though that the report advised that, despite a contraction in the agriculture sector due to severe flooding in 2017, rural area poverty remained stable at 20.1 per cent, and noted that the measures introduced by the Government had assisted in curtailing an increase in the poverty rate.

A second ministry paper tabled last week in Parliament, Ministry Paper 52, which covered the Cabinet meeting on the following Monday, June 17, reported that attention was also paid to the information included in the JSLC report for 2017 at that meeting. No further details were added.

The most recent JSLC report was tabled in Parliament in July, showing a significant boost to the rural economy in 2016, primarily due to an improved performance in agriculture, which led to increased consumption and an overall decline in poverty of 4.1 per cent.

According to data from the Statistical Institute, between 2009 and 2016 poverty fluctuated as follows: 2009 — 16.5 per cent; 2010 — 17.6 per cent; 2012 — 19.9 per cent; 2013 — 24.6 per cent; 2014 — 20 per cent; 2015 — 21.2 per cent; and in 2016 — 17.1 per cent. The rate of 24.6 per cent in 2013 was the highest for decades.

However, these reports are not tabled annually in Parliament and it appears that the Government, in an effort to reduce the cycle, is seeking to release the 2017 report soon. The report for 2015 was released in October 2017 and it appears that the reports for both 2017 and 2018 will be released this year.

The increased pace in delivering the reports to Parliament may have been linked to the launch of the National Poverty Reduction Programme (NPRP) in March, 2018, following the approval of the National Policy on Poverty in September, 2017. The NPRP began official implementation on April 1, 2018, with the commencement of the first three-year medium-term programme over financial years 2018 to 2021.