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Rejecting the ‘lazy and poor’ argument
Susan lives in the rural community of Matura. On a single mattress and sheets spread on the bare ground, her two-room structure sleeps eight. Budgeting is both a headache and an art form, considering the fact that she’s dividing up a thousand dollars a month scrambled together from friends and family.
“I give my sister a little thing for the electricity she does give we, I does have to buy water to drink and cook because we don’t have tap water and the river water does be dirty, and well the rest we does buy, grocery stuff,” she said in an interview. “The rest” for the month is less than the cost of a dinner at one of Port-of-Spain’s smart restaurants.
Economist Dr Roger Hosein has strong and somewhat controversial views about poverty. He says while poverty may be a reality for some, he does not believe it is the case for the many others who claim to be victims of this event, since many locals forego employment opportunities being seized by other Caricom nationals. “To me the main cause of poverty in T&T, overall, is chronic laziness,” Hosein said.
“In many cases, T&T nationals are saying they’re not working for $200 a day; they not working for $300 a day. They would wait until Petrotrin or one of these companies offer a temporary job, take that and wait a long period—sometime six months until the next cycle restarts.” He explained that many people were just not willing to go out there and work.
But former Social Development Minister Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh rejects any notion that people are poor because they don’t work hard enough. “Laziness is a very strong word. Sometimes there is a lack of opportunity. Sometimes because of the mere fact that basic needs have not been met, people are not motivated to work,” the ex-minister said.
Susan is sensitive to accusations of being lazy, insisting that she had simply hit hard times. Her community is evidently poor. Badly built structures and a lack of proper sanitation are everywhere. She had done some farming, and even worked temporarily on a nearby bridge programme which was eventually shut down. She has also had to battle mental illness.
“I used to work until my last daughter was born. I never wanted to see she or hold she. I used to use obscene language toward she, so I talk to the nurse and they send me to the mental clinic in Grande,” she said. She had benefited from some of the $3 billion from the Government’s poverty eradication programme, and for her a little goes a long way.
“Sometimes before the month done it does only have a little thing balance back,” Susan said. “We does have to pinch on it.” By the time Ramadharsingh left office, some 200,000 people, approximately one sixth of the population, were living below the poverty line. He attributes that to changing socio-economic conditions in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Poverty is something that sometimes affects the entire community. Entire communities are poor, industries have closed down and opportunities are drying up,” he explained. Through a targeted programme by Government called Direct Impact, he insists there has been progress in addressing the plight of the poor.
Not for Susan, though. She has a food card which she carefully rations. “I does buy half bag of flour, I does buy the bag of potato, two five-pound sugar, the pack of milk for $100, a gallon of oil, a little peas and whatever tin stuff. I can’t buy plenty thing.” She despairs, however, believing that she’ll never see a day in the future when she can go to the supermarket without mentally calculating, every time, whether she has enough money to pay.
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