Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, by Dick Drayer:
Hundreds of elderly people on the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius regularly have to go to bed with empty stomachs. They have no food at home and at the daycare center, where there is food, there often is no place. The National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen, sounds the alarm with the publication yesterday in Kralendijk (Bonaire) of his report Eye for the Elderly in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Older people in the Caribbean Netherlands often live unworthy lives, Van Zutphen writes. “They have an AOV benefit (a variant of the Dutch AOW benefit) but can hardly make ends meet and often live in bitter poverty.”
High housing costs
The costs of basic necessities in the Caribbean Netherlands are often almost twice as high as in the European Netherlands, while an AOV benefit is 450 euros lower for single elderly people [than Dutch AOW]. Housing costs are high and groceries expensive. Fresh vegetables and fruit are not affordable for many elderly people.
Nina den Heyer is happy with the ombudsman’s report. She is the alderwoman for Society and Care in the local island government of Bonaire. “The big problem for the elderly is that they cannot do extra jobs to raise their income. We call it [in Papiamentu] Lora Man here, doing odd jobs. Almost everyone has an extra job besides work or arranges other things, because they do not earn enough to get around. The elderly can’t do that anymore. ”
In addition, the facilities on the island are inadequate. “Public transport is poor, the elderly do not leave their houses. Usually, they live with one of their children or children live with them. Yet they are lonely, because everyone is making money away from home.”
The poverty problem among the elderly can be solved, but then the Netherlands will have to take a serious approach to the problem, according to Alderwoman Den Heyer. “The group is 2500 people, so how difficult can it be to raise the AOV to an acceptable and already calculated level? Companies should have a mandatory pension provision for their workers”, she says.
Den Heyer agrees with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. He wants the Netherlands to start today: “We have to work with our hearts”, says Van Zutphen. “The bitter irony is that everyone thought it would get better on the islands after 10-10-2010.” On that date, the old Netherlands Antilles colonial setup was dismantled and Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius fell under the direct authority of The Hague. “But it just got worse, it didn’t help the poor.”
The ombudsman wants the Netherlands to create a so-called ‘Caribbean table’. “All departments in The Hague with a task within the Caribbean Netherlands must join, under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.”
“Government agencies now rely too much on their own duties, powers and budgets”, says Van Zutphen. “They do not sufficiently realize that their policies come together, affecting vulnerable elderly people in the Caribbean Netherlands.”
“Great plan”, says Den Heyer. “But I also want to sit at that table myself, have a say and make decisions. The Hague should not stop with the elderly, but also face the poverty of children. They grow up in poverty. I can predict how children who grow up in poverty will fare later in society. While they do have the talents!”