CDB study proposes new policies to tackle deep regional poverty and inequality
A study commissioned by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is proposing a wide raft of policy changes at the institutional and government levels to tackle high rates of poverty and inequality across the Region. Changes being called for include an acceleration of labour market reform with an emphasis on entrepreneurial skills training, promotion of policies to eliminate child labour and keeping children in school, support of gender equality in the labour market and more partnerships between the public and private sectors. The proposals are made against the background of high rates of headline poverty and inequality remaining big development challenges across the Caribbean, despite several initiatives over a number of years by governments, with support from bilateral and multilateral donor partners aimed at addressing the underlying problems. The study concludes that not only have high rates persisted, but the nature and face of poverty and inequality in the Caribbean are changing as well. “In many cases, the situation has worsened with the onset of the global financial crisis," the report said. Its focus was to provide fresh thinking on the shifts in policies, approaches or strategies and institutional arrangements that are required to speed up the pace of poverty reduction in the Caribbean, as well as to expand opportunities for the most vulnerable. The study notes that while inequality in the Caribbean is a direct result of the Region' colonial history where social stratification and the different types and levels of poverty came to be firmly etched out, progress has been made in reducing gaps in the social and economic spheres. This reduction is attributed to concerted and accelerated efforts in response to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among others initiatives. In addition, with the help of CDB, country-level efforts to improve access by the poor to vital services and assets, deliver income transfers to poor families and adopt specific policies, which support social inclusion, have been sustained. Disparities still remain, however, including access to good quality education, health services and opportunities. At the same time, group-based inequalities such as race, ethnicity, gender, location and age continue to slow the pace of poverty reduction in the Caribbean, thereby undermining its development prospects and militating against inclusive prosperity. “This signals the need to intensify efforts towards promoting greater social inclusion, equity in opportunities and inclusive economic growth." Study Synopsis To enhance poverty-reduction approaches and strategy, the study proposes a significant increase in investments in personnel, training, data collection and resources. The need for a strengthening of regional statistical capacity and information systems was also cited, particularly against the background of patchy and sometimes lengthy gaps between poverty assessment surveys. One of the concerns noted was that census data remain only partially analysed for three to five years or more, after the assessment has been completed. Consequently, capturing the changing nature of poverty and identifying factors that help individuals get out of poverty is difficult. Systems to monitor the progress of targeted groups and individuals and ensure that social interventions are meeting the needs of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised are therefore inadequate. Recommendations proposed for action by regional and international organisations include: Enhancing the efficiency of social protection instruments through more effective coordination and consolidation of such programmes and institutional capacity building at the regional level. Improving on evidence-based policy-making informed by results from the interpretation and analysis of timely, accurate and reliable data. Investing in producing a summative poverty reduction handbook or video that is an easily accessible hands-on tool that targets policy-makers and practitioners. Among the recommendations for action by governments that were also put forward are: Continue efforts at understanding poverty from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives and approaches needed, but with increased efforts at integrating both methods. Facilitate a regional community of practice promoting social protection/safety net as an integral strategy for growth and development. This could be facilitated via Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) as the driver. Promote the development of a labour market information system (LMIS), which can result in greater levels of efficiency and informed training programmes resulting in enhanced school-to-work transition, especially of youths and young adults. Restructure active labour market programmes to facilitate not only access to employment, but also various skills training, including entrepreneurial skills and access to start-up capital for small and medium enterprise (SME) development. Forge partnership with the private sector in providing access to small start-up capital for SME development. Support apprenticeship programmes in the private and public sector that are linked to secondary schools and universities. Support gender equality in the labour market, political representation/appointment in Parliament and the elimination of violence against women. Promote policies that eliminate child labour and keep children in schools, as well as policies to encourage positive parenting and educate caregivers on the negative impact of child labour. This will also require addressing youth and adult unemployment in these heads of households. Enhance the coverage of social protection/safety net programmes to build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities to covariate and idiosyncratic shocks and risks. Reduce duplication of programme administration and harmonise the social protection/safety net programmes to better serve beneficiaries and increase efficiency. Strike a balance between universal and targeted interventions. Basic programmes in health, education and nutrition should continue to be universally available, but attempts should be made to ensure that the poor are not excluded. The School Lunch Programme is a good example of striking the balance where all students can access the programme, but poor students are exempted from the financial contribution. The poor and vulnerable should also be encouraged to make greater use of family planning and reduce teenage pregnancies through greater utilisation of community health aids and centres and make use of legitimate opportunities to exit povertythe study proposes.