Sunday, May 13, 2007

Last month, the governor of the state of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, participated in something called the food stamp challenge (read a New York Times report here). He and his wife agreed to spend no more than US$21 each on food for one week--$21 is the average amount given to Oregon residents who receive food stamps--to raise awareness of poverty and hunger in his state. Some called it a political stunt, some said it showed a real willingness to understand what it means to live in poverty.

I thought of Governor Kulongoski this morning when I read the front-page story in the Sunday Express, written by Andy Johnson: "Big Poverty Drop: Report puts level at 17%". I'll just quote the opening paragraphs:

The Government is readying itself to roll out a report which will say that poverty in the country has been cut in half over the last five years.

The Poverty Reduction Unit in the Ministry of Social Development is said to be completing consideration of a report from a team of consultants which put the national poverty figure at 17 per cent. This is half the 35 per cent figure which the Government says it met when it took office in 2002.

Consideration of the report is said to be underway, and it is expected to go before Cabinet shortly before being made the subject of official discussions.

Framers of the study, who produced the report, used an income level of $655 as a monthly base from which to establish the poverty line in Trinidad and Tobago. This was said to have represented a slim increase over the figure of $625 used in a similar study in 1999. The poverty line figure of $655 is determined as the minimum monthly income required by an individual in order to secure the basic nutritional intake of 2,400 calories a day. Persons falling below this level are categorised as being indigent.

A national poverty figure of 17 per cent will come as a shock to many....

Let's assume for now that these figures, clearly leaked by someone in the ministry, are accurate. I want to see the head of the Poverty Reduction Unit and his team of consultants--let's not think how much they were paid--living on TT$655 a month. I want to see the Minister of Social Development try that. And the Prime Minister, and Mrs. Manning too. And the whole damn Cabinet. How the hell--pardon my language, readers, but the sense of damnation hanging over this country gets heavier every day--how the hell could any sane person living in Trinidad and Tobago in 2007 say $655 per month is an income anyone could live on?

1 comment:

Georgia/Caribbean Free Radio said...

If any of the parties considering contesting this year's general election had any imagination, they'd have one of their head honchos do a Kulongoski.

Kamla, Winston, Garvin, Kirk et al - let's see you try and live on $655, nah.