THE HON. HAMILTON LASHLEY, M.P.
MINISTER OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION, BARBADOS
Geneva, 27 June 2000
I am deeply honoured to be here today with leaders from around the world to reaffirm the commitment of the Government of Barbados to the Copenhagen Declaration and Plan of Action of 1995. This document focussed the World's attention on the critical need to establish a social framework in order to attain sustainable, people-centred development. Five years later we can conclude that the goals and commitments of the Copenhagen Plan of Action remain both urgent and necessary. The issues of poverty eradication, social integration and productive employment were brought to the forefront, and expectations were high that some positive steps would be made to deal with these issues. Since then, there have been severe global constraints which have limited the efforts of many in the developing world to achieve the goals and commitments made in 1995.
While global economic integration is creating opportunities for people around the world, there are still wide divergences among countries in expanding trade, attracting investments and using new technologies.
Many of the poorest countries are marginalized from these growing global opportunities and the income gaps between the poorest and richest countries are widening. The effects of globalization and trade liberalization on small island developing states such as Barbados can be devastating on economic and social stability.
Since the onset of the 90's the number of people living in poverty continues to increase. The World Bank estimates that 1.3 billion people in developing countries lived below the poverty line of $1 a day in 1993, and their number increased by approximately 15 million every year between 1987 and 1993. Research has also suggested a deepening of poverty. Of concern most recently, is the fact that several countries are witnessing the paradoxical combination of renewed economic growth on the one hand, and, widening disparities and deepening poverty on the other. This seems to indicate the emergence of a two-tier global economy. In Latin America and the Caribbean for example, where economic growth has been widespread, the number of poor increased by about 3 million a year in the first half of the 1990s according to statistics from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Against this dismal background, new challenges have also appeared. The scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, drug use and drug trafficking, threaten to divert resources allocated to social development, and produce adverse effects on society in general, and the poor, in particular. Barbados has been equally affected by these socially challenging situations, but has maintained a policy of social transformation. We have focussed on five areas for priority action:
ii) promotion of social integration;
iii) productive employment;
iv) equality and equity between men and women; and
v) reducing HIV/AIDS.
The Ministry of Social Transformation, in collaboration with the Ministries of Finance and Health, NGOs and Civil Society have taken progressive steps to address these areas. Together we share responsibility for a range of social services: i.e. child care, care of the elderly through the National Assistance Board, Community Development, Welfare, Urban Development, Disability, the Poverty Bureau and the Women's Bureau. This new Ministry which commenced operations in 1999, seeks as well, to rationalise the existing social services agencies and implement the 10 commitments listed in the Copenhagen Declaration and Plan of Action 1995.
As I and many others emphasized less than a month ago in New York the feminization of poverty, globally, is of growing concern. This phenomenon is no less true of my region - the Caribbean, where women are often the single heads of households. Consequently, in Barbados, the eradication of poverty has been identified as a priority area for action, for all vulnerable groups. The Government of Barbados has established a poverty eradication fund and has embarked on a series of measures to boost entrepreneurial activities to reduce unemployment among youth and women.
Barbados has also established a Social Investment Fund (SIF) which provides loans to poor disadvantaged persons to develop small business entrepreneurship. The Barbados Government has undertaken this programme in cooperation with the UNDID.
Renewal Programme is actively under consideration with the aim of transforming
several difficult dwelling areas into more amenable housing sites for the poorest
segments of our society. Another
poverty eradication initiative of this new Ministry has been the introduction
of the Relief 2000 Programme; which focuses on intensive follow-up action to
meet the needs of individuals and families. We
are also in the process of converting the Welfare Department into a Bureau of
Family Affairs so that the needs of the family, as a unit, may be met.
The identification of families by social agencies; assistance with training from educational institutions; the provision of ancillary services for children by nurseries and accessing capital for the funding of programmes, are some of the major forms of assistance required. Support from nongovernmental organisations and the private sector in general will also be sought in facilitating other aspects of the Relief 2000 programme through sponsorship and service provision.
Assistance Board, whose mandate is to provide assistance mainly for the indigent
and elderly, has shifted focus towards providing a more attractive living environment
for its charges. A programme for redesign of houses and debushing the properties
of the indigent elderly, coupled with a proposed plan to provide a seven-day
a week home-help service for them are the main planks of our strategies.
with disabilities constitute a group of persons who have been excluded from
the mainstream of society. To this end, the Ministry of Social Transformation
committed itself to the development of a Green Paper which sets out policies,
programmes and activities that will empower and protect persons with disabilities.
A National Policy on Ageing is being developed. Average life expectancy in Barbados is 72 years for males and 77 years for females. The policy seeks to ensure that older persons experience the quality of life necessary to maintain personal well being. The national policy for ageing is seen as a key element in being prepared to meet the challenges of an ageing population.
Continuing the Promotion of Productive Employment
Employment has been cited as one of the keys to achieving social integration. Barbados has created a Labour Market Information System (BLMIS) with the aim of facilitating universal and public access to timely labour market-related information on issues that affect all categories of users. We have established a Labour Market Information Advisory Committee to guide the activities of the system. This committee is a partnership of the private and public sectors, trade unions and education and training institutions. One of the main components of the Labour Market System is its website. This site contains a number of modules each catering to a particular type of user. The job bank module for example is a feature that allows employers to post their vacancies on-line. The job seeker can also become a member of the skills bank facility that provides a database of skilled personnel. Job seekers also have a job matching facility at their disposal to assist them in their job finding pursuits. The Labour Market Information service is continuously being updated.
In tackling the problem of HIV/AIDS, Barbados established a National Aids Committee to confront the complex problems associated with the HIV pandemic. Through the Committee, public awareness programmes have been instituted and the public sensitized and educated in AIDS prevention programmes. The effort to deal with this disease is further supported by UN AIDS which represents a comprehensive response to meet the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While we make these efforts at the national level in pursuing the commitments made at Copenhagen, we see this Geneva 2000 Special Session as a time to review and to reinvigorate the momentum for governments, intergovernmental agencies, trade unions, employers and all the other actors in civil society to work together on new initiatives to overcome our challenging environment. We see it as an opportunity to promote strategies aimed at achieving social development and to work towards the full implementation of the commitments undertaken by developed and developing countries at the 1995 Summit for Social Development.
I thank you, Mr. President.