Caribbean: New generation of public policies must focus on the most vulnerable people and boost resilience, UNDP

Sep 12, 2016

Caribbean Human Development Report

Bridgetown, September 12, 2016 Caribbean countries need a new generation of public policies to increase gains in the economic, social and environmental fronts while boosting climate and financial resilience and protecting people throughout their life cycles, says the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report (HDR) for the Caribbean, launched here today.

The Caribbean HDR titled “Multidimensional Progress: human resilience beyond income” highlights the need to rethink the methods for ranking development in the region’s countries that go beyond per capita income, economic growth rates and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Caribbean HDR calls on governments, the private sector and all of society to rethink the region’s progress along multidimensional lines, inspired by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): nothing that reduces the rights of people and communities or threatens environmental sustainability can be considered progress, the report highlights.

“The inspiration for this report comes from the strong demands of Caribbean leaders for more comprehensive metrics for assessing development, and for a more nuanced examination of the meaning of ‘graduation,’ recognizing that income per capita does not reflect the vulnerabilities, development needs and challenges of middle income countries,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the launch with Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Irwin LaRocque and Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Didacus Jules and Caribbean academic authorities.

The report also highlights the fact that Caribbean countries‘ high debt hinders the ability to access finance for sustainable development, limiting the region’s ability to achieve the SDGs. In view of the development financing context in the Caribbean, the report demonstrates how, for the most part, Caribbean countries are ineligible for concessional finance due to their status as middle-income countries. With average national per capita income levels above the international financial eligibility benchmark, the report makes a case for a review of eligibility criteria to access concessional financing. The report underscores the extreme economic and environmental vulnerabilities in Caribbean countries that – like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – make the region’s countries special cases for development.

"The challenges of sustainable, holistic and universal development do not end at a certain income threshold: we don’t ‘graduate' from development challenges unless we can respond accordingly to the multiple dimensions that enable people to live the lives they consider valuable, " said UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta.

In line with the SDGs, the report stresses that on the one hand it is crucial to invest in people, environment, sustainable and affordable energy, institutional efficiency, stability and security as these are key factors to boost economic growth. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that economic growth is inclusive, empowers people, leaves no one behind, and is not achieved at the expense of the environment.

This also entails investing in people, protecting women and men throughout their life cycle, particularly the most vulnerable, according to the report, which contains Caribbean-specific data, analysis and recommendations, complementing the regional HDR launched 14 June.

The report focuses on several groups and their “vulnerabilities”, which accumulate over a life cycle hindering people’s capacity to fulfil their potential and also to leave poverty behind, the report stresses.

Women are disadvantaged in the labour market, with lower level and lower paying jobs than men in the Caribbean, according to the report. Although women head nearly half of the Caribbean households, the participation of women in senior managerial jobs is still limited to less than one quarter of these jobs in all researched Caribbean countries, with the exceptions of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados.

In the Caribbean, women are more affected by unemployment than men, although the gap is reducing over time, the report shows. Between 2000 and 2013, the labour force participation rate of women aged 15-64 increased by 2.2 percent whilst that of men decreased by 2.5 percent.  However, gender differences are large with 59.3 percent of women in labour force versus 78.7 percent for men according to the report.

Women are studying more, causing the educational gap between women and men in the Caribbean to widen in the last years in favour of women. According to the report, education can be a potential protective factor against women´s disadvantages in the labour market, but women are still earning less than male colleagues and are proportionally holding fewer decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. An example of women’s underrepresentation in politics is that the percentage of women MPs ranged from 6.7 percent in St. Kitts and Nevis to 25.7 percent in Antigua and Barbuda in 2014.

The report stresses that violence against women is a key challenge for the Caribbean, not only threatening lives but also negatively impacting all of society. Different types of violence – physical, sexual, psychological or a combination of them – affect between 20 and 35 percent of women in Caribbean countries for which data are available.

Youth are also a critical group in vulnerability, the Caribbean report stresses. Youth unemployment is a common challenge for both women and men. Youth unemployment rates range between 18 percent and 47 percent except in Trinidad and Tobago where it is 10 percent. For young women, teenage pregnancy can hinder the possibilities of studying, working – and leaving poverty behind. Young men, especially in poor communities, are both the main victims and the main perpetrators of crime in the Caribbean. These vulnerabilities must be addressed in all ages, the report stresses, so they do not build up over the life cycles.

Older persons - On average, the Caribbean has a higher rate of population 65 years old and above, and is ageing faster, than the Latin America region. It is estimated that by 2025, 11,4 percent of the Caribbean population will be 65 years or above. Older women are more at risk of poverty and chronic diseases than older men (whose life expectancy is lower and who are less likely to access health care and detect disease especially at earlier stages), but benefit more from family support, according to the report. Pension schemes, especially non-contributory ones, are often inefficient and inadequate both in coverage and value. Older women’s contributory pensions tend to be lower than men´s as a consequence of women in their earlier years concentrated in lower remuneration jobs.

Indigenous peoples and Maroons are also acutely vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, teenage pregnancies, and substance abuse, the report highlights.

Factors that have pushed people out of poverty in the Caribbean are different from those that prevent them from falling back, the HDR stresses. In the past decade, labour markets and education were the biggest engines behind exiting poverty. However, the report argues that it is essential that a new generation of public policies strengthen the four factors that prevent setbacks: social protection, care systems (particularly for children and older persons), physical and financial assets (such as owning a car, a home, savings or bank accounts that act as ‘cushions’ when crisis hit), and labour skills. This is especially important during economic slowdowns.

The report stresses the importance of social investments, showcasing that Caribbean countries proportionately spend one-tenth of what other Latin American countries spend on social policies. “At the core of the multi-dimensional perspective on poverty, is the recognition that economic growth and income accretion are insufficient for lifting and keeping people out of poverty. As a consequence, measures to target and address key sources of vulnerability and deprivation and to strengthen adaptive capabilities, such as in the areas of education, health, training, employment opportunities, and social protection are of critical importance,” the report argues.

Resources – Download the report | Report web page| Download our APP on Google Playstore and Apple/ iTunes | Animation with key report messages | Twitter @UNDPLAC #MoreThanIncome |

About the Caribbean HDR: The Caribbean Human Development Report is an editorially independent publications commissioned by UNDP. This report was prepared with financial support from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID, in Spanish) and the Chilean Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AGCID, in Spanish) through the OECS project on multidimensional approaches to poverty reduction. Over 15 regional authorities and representatives from academia, civil society and the private sector took part in the Report’s Advisory Panel.

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