While the number of persons receiving welfare pay-outs has more than doubled since his government came to office, this is not a sign that there is more poverty, says Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
Rather, this shows that he has a heart, Gonsalves told his annual town hall meeting with Vincentians in New York on Saturday.
Gonsalves was, at the time, speaking about poverty reduction as being among the “cross-cutting issues” that his Unity Labour Party has had to address since coming to office in March 2001.
“You know, it’s amazing, the opposition say Ralph has too many people on public assistance. First of all, remember this, you know, public assistance, was, when I arrived, $50 a month. It’s now $270. And when you had 2,000 on public assistance. Is 4,500 you have now, you know.
“They say that is a sign that there is more poverty. No. What it is a sign of is that this man has a heart. And I have to make sure that you have something to help you keep body and soul together because you left me with 26 per cent of the population in indigence. What you want me to do, leave them to starve? Never!” said Gonsalves, who had repeatedly spoken about his government’s successes at poverty reduction.
“What is taking place before our very eyes is nothing less than a socio-economic transformation of the country. And I’ll tell you this. I couldn’t have gone to the poor and said to them, I am building airport and it is going take a while, I am doing education revolution and the results from that, you going see it down the road, it going take time to build up all the hotel rooms. I can’t tell them bear bob, because yo’ ha’ to eat and yo’ ha’ to have roof over yo’ head.”
The prime minister said this is why his government has a poverty reduction programme that the World Bank commends.
He also noted that his government has a school feeding programme which Antigua and Barbuda had come to observe, because it is seen as a best practice.
“For young people, I had to make sure that I cushion some of the challenges by starting the YES programme and the SET programme while the medium-term measures take root and you will see the benefits of what we are doing over a period of time that will be sustainable, and that’s why we have a development plan, which we update. The current one is 2013 to 2025 and in the next five years, we will update it further,” Gonsalves said.
Minister of National Mobilisation, Frederick Stephenson told the media last week that there are 4,275 persons on Public Assistance in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.