The number of persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who receives monthly payouts under the Public Assistance programme stood at 4,673 at the end of August.
However, some 13,000 persons benefit from social welfare programme, Minister of Social Development, Frederick Stephenson told Parliament on Tuesday in response to a question from opposition lawmaker, Sen. Julian “Jules” Ferdinand.
Stephenson said that the persons on Public Assistance include the elderly, the indigent, persons with disabilities, and, to some extent, orphans.
Ferdinand also asked the minister to say how many persons were added to the Public Assistance list since January 2016.
The minister said that 434 persons were added since January 2016.
“On the public assistance, when persons die, their names are removed. If children [get] past the age of 18 years old and [are] out of school, their names are removed from the list,” Stephenson explained.
He said that at August 2016, the government is paying out EC$1.1 million monthly in public assistance.
The following is the breakdown of the number of citizens receiving such assistance on a constituency basis.
Ferdinand said that the figures that the minister gave means that there was a drop-off, based on the prime minister’s budget address for 2017, noting that on Page 11 of his Budget Address, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said:
“For the period January to August 2016, the public assistance programme provided support to over 5,500 households, equivalent to approximately 13,000 individuals, which is a significant difference to what we are seeing here.”
Stephenson said those figures the Prime Minister mentioned included all the welfare programmes.
He said the 4,673 that he mentioned are those persons receiving “Poor relief”, as Public Assistance was traditionally called.
The minister added: “But, in terms of the overall assistance provided by the Ministry, which takes into consideration emergency monthly assistance programme, rental, Home Help for the Elderly, the national assistance fund, and so on. Those are in relation to families and the total number of persons who would have received assistance on the programme was actually over 13,000 persons, as recorded in the Prime Minister’s budget speech. But I gave you the figures in relation to the ‘Poor Relief’ assistance.”
Ferdinand said that he understands that there will always be persons who require that sort of assistance and said he asked about the location of the recipients to get an idea of the likely activities in those areas.
“I am just wondering if any consideration is being given to moving some of these people in a direction where, rather than getting a monthly subsistence, they can be provided with an opportunity to earn rather than to be given,” the opposition lawmaker said.
Stephenson said there are several programmes within his ministry, adding that some persons are taken off the list after their livelihoods improve.
He said that the Public Assistance Board is permitted to revisit every six months the assistance given to individuals.
“So what the ministry does is we offer several other programmes in terms of teen mothers who are receiving assistance on the programme from time to time, we have a special single mothers programme where we are giving them a small stipend and they start small village gardens and so on. We try every single opportunity to help these persons off public assistance and gaining employment opportunities.”
The minister also spoke about the Zero Hunger Trust Fund, which he said also provides some training and assistance to persons who were on the public assistance list.
“But many of the persons here who are on the Public Assistance list, are, as I said, the poor, indigent, person with disabilities, because some of them can’t work. There are elderly persons on the list from all communities throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the ministry, we do everything possible to try and get those persons who would have received, in the interim, immediate assistance and so on, we try agencies to seek employment for them, we have a single parents programme, we also have a prisoners’ programme where we are working with some of the prisoners who are soon to be released from prison…” he said.