Madame Speaker, Inequality flowed from Jamaica’s colonial experience. The People’s National Party, from its very outset in 1938, set out the national agenda in terms of a fairer and better deal for the Jamaican people, especially the majority without the benefit of generational wealth.
In 1971, in his contribution to the budget debate of that year, then Leader of the Opposition Michael Manley said:
“We have got to realise, first of all, that if we genuinely mean the motto ‘Out of many, one people’ we must recognize that that motto is not part of the social experience of the people at large. With all that may have developed in politics, the fact is that, in social terms, Jamaica is a divided society. We must understand that until all the youths in this country find the level at which their oneness is manifest in action, we perpetuate the social divisions that bedevil this country.”
We remain committed to reducing inequality. We see it as an historical duty to build on the legacy of our ancestors, heroes and heroines whose blood, sweat and tears brought our nation out of slavery and colonialism. This is why the PNP led the struggle for adult suffrage, so that all adults in Jamaica have the right to vote, and set the agenda for political independence.
Despite the efforts made, Jamaica is still plagued by high levels of income and wealth inequality. This inequality is manifest in the vast disparity of outcomes in the primary and secondary school systems, in the availability and standard of health care, in access to proper housing and basic amenities such as working sewage systems, street lighting and garbage disposal, and in access to justice.
Madame Speaker, sustainable economic and social development is not possible without deliberately building a more just and fair society. If we ignore the fundamental problem of excessive inequality in income and wealth, whatever social cohesion remains will give way to frustration, bitterness and resentment.
The commitment to reducing inequality offers our society the best platform to unleash the talents and potential of the entire population. This is especially true of vulnerable and excluded groups, such as persons living with disabilities, the elderly, people without titles for land, people who live in unplanned communities, and young people struggling for access to higher education.
Excessive inequality is linked with crime and insecurity, lower economic growth, and poor health and other outcomes. It is bad for all of us.
Madame Speaker, OXFAM and Development Financial International produce the Commitment to Reduce Inequality (CRI) Index. It ranks countries on performance in three areas - labour rights, taxation policy, and social protection.
This Index in 2020 ranked Jamaica behind other Caribbean countries, and lowly placed in the global community. The 2018 Index ranked Jamaica’s commitment to reducing inequality as 96th in the world. Two years on, that ranking significantly worsened. The 2020 index saw Jamaica falling to 124th in the world, and we ranked 21st out of 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The 2020 report urged “government action to radically reduce inequality”.
Similarly, the 2017 Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions, the most recent such survey, found “inequality at a level similar to 2008 at the height of the global recession”, and stated that “inequality remains a persistent problem as the data show fairly consistently wide disparities between the richest and the poorest groups in several indicators”.
That Survey pointed out the following manifestations of the very high levels of inequality in Jamaica:
- 4 of every 10 households in the poorest 20% of Jamaica’s population still use pit latrines;
- 7 of 10 households in the poorest 20% had no access to Internet/computers, compared to 3 out of 10 in the wealthiest 20%;
- Only 4 of 100 Jamaicans in the poorest 20% of the population had health insurance, compared to 40 per cent in the wealthiest 20%.
- 6 out of 10 older persons (60 years and over) were not receiving a pension; and of those receiving pensions, about a third received less than $10,000 per month;
- Over 700,000 Jamaicans were living in overcrowded settlements with no clean water, inadequate sanitization, no access roads, high unemployment and high school dropouts, as well as serious health and environmental problems.
And in terms of work, most Jamaicans are either unemployed or informally employed, and do not benefit from paid leave, maternity leave, sick leave and NIS or private pension arrangements. The informal sector accounts for approximately 60% of total employment.
The glaring inequality in Jamaica has been worsened by the Covid 19 pandemic. As I highlighted earlier, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the lower socio-economic segments of the society. Whatever gains have been made in the past are in danger of being permanently reversed.
Madame Speaker, too many of our people are left behind by the current model of development. It entrenches vulnerability and exclusion. Many feel that “a so di ting set”; that the system has nothing for them.
There is precious little in the Government’s discourse, or their approach to economic management, which recognizes this excessive inequality as a serious problem.
The PNP has always rejected the trickle-down approach to national development. We realize that if Jamaica stays on the path of lopsided, inequitable development, the hopelessness and despair of too many of our people will continue and only get worse.
The time has come to treat the level of inequality in Jamaica as a separate crisis, and to proactively rebalance the scales.
Our vision for Jamaica
Madame Speaker, Jamaica needs a vision which embraces our possibilities as a great people; a clear definition of the kind of country we want to build. With the benefit of definition, we can test every action against a clear picture of what we are trying to do.
There is no doubt that the State is in a stronger financial position due to the fiscal progress since 2013. The successes from the purposeful implementation of the reforms in the 2013-2018 IMF programmes, were built on the sacrifices of the Jamaican people. We must ensure that these are not in vain.
The successes must be used to build a society where all Jamaicans, of every class, colour or creed, have a place, and feel a sense of hope and belonging. Where all Jamaicans enjoy increased opportunities and an improved quality of life.
Madame Speaker, Jamaica needs a different philosophy to guide policy. It must be based on the principled pursuit of social justice and equality of opportunity.
Social justice and equality are not just abstract concepts to be sung about in inspirational songs. They are essential principles in constructing a cohesive society that can flourish and meet the hopes and expectations of all our people; a society that works for all and not just for a few.
We need to build a more inclusive Jamaica, with people at the centre of policy development. We’re all in this thing together.
The PNP is committed to a model of development which is balanced and in harmony with the fundamental principles of social justice, equality of opportunity. That is, to building a Jamaica that works for all.
We are committed to the fundamental social and economic transformation that is needed to build a stable, caring society; a society in which all Jamaicans are treated as equal citizens. Our goal is to build a system through which sustainable growth and development can become a reality; a system that exists for the empowerment of the people.
Unless guided by this philosophy, economic growth will not lead to greater national prosperity. It will merely serve to enrich those who already have capital, while most Jamaicans are left to wonder why they cannot achieve their hopes and dreams in the land of their birth.
- Countries: Jamaica
- JAMAICA | Provide the Trafigura information without delay ! says Golding
- JAMAICA | In Defense of Horace Chang’s Dialogue with the Diaspora
- St. Vincent's La Soufrière volcano may soon erupt - Residents Evacuate
- BRITAIN | Yes, there is structural racism in the UK – COVID-19 outcomes prove it
- JAMAICA | Opposition wants gov't to hold national dialogue on crime