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‘Poor relief statistics nothing to brag about’

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Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Arnhim Eustace says the fact that close to 6,000 Vincentians receive public assistance, is not something to brag about.

“You don’t brag about the number of people on poor relief. You should be ashamed if large numbers of our people are on poor relief.{{more}} It means you are not providing jobs that are necessary for the population of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Eustace said on Tuesday at a public meeting in Redemption Sharpes.

He was at the time responding to prime minister Ralph Gonsalves, who at a Unity Labour Party rally in Campden Park last weekend said this year, nearly $18 million is being spent on public assistance for approximately 6,000 persons.

Eustace said the prime minister uses the issue of poor relief (public assitance) to fool people all the time.

“Let me tell you what NDP’s concerns are. The more people who are unemployed, who don’t have a job, is the more poor relief you have.

“Our job as a government is to provide jobs for people so you have less people on poor relief. We expect poor relief to go down, not go up because we providing jobs. And that is the big thing I want all of us to understand,” Eustace said.

At Saturday’s rally, Gonsalves, while speaking of programmes of the ULP, said public assistance is one programme that Eustace will axe if the NDP is elected to office.

“He said that is too much money ($18 million) … Well if you want to cut public assistance for the poor or children of the poor, you could come and tell me you could win election in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the year 2015?

“Listen to me, it’s easy to cut it by half. You know why is it that it reach that figure? Two reasons. The population of the elderly has increased and many of them didn’t work enough before to get the NIS contributions.

“And because of universal secondary education, a lot of poor persons children had to go to secondary school and I had to help them go to secondary school, so I have to give them some public assistance,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister said he heard Julian ‘Jules’ Ferdinand, NDP candidate for West St George say in a television that the NDP is not about giving public assistance.

“Well, for heaven’s sake, Mr Ferdinand could be comfortable and talk like that in his house with his retirement benefits from ECGC. I am not envious of him for all his wealth and all his comfort. I am happy for him and his family.

“But why, if you are so comfortable, you would want to deny a minimum comfort to the poor and the working people and the children so they could get a little public assistance.

“We increase not only the number, but the amount for public assistance by $50 to $225 for those who are over 65 and to $200 for those who are under 65,” Gonsalves said.

The ULP leader said these increases will take effect in January 2016 and will cost $1.5 million more.

“Rather than cut it, I am going to increase it because everybody tells us who studies our economy and we say so, that we are going to have modest economic growth and the poor must get something out of the growth,” he added.

However, Eustace, at Tuesday’s meeting said the NDP’s goal is to make sure that a minimum number of people end up on poor relief and the maximum number of people end up with jobs to enable them to look after their families.

“So when Gonsalves say we don’t want to pay poor relief. That is not the issue. We want to provide jobs so that poor people don’t have to go on poor relief. That is our objective. We have a different approach to those things in our party,” he added.(KW)

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