Friday April 18, 2008 [04:00]
We cannot continue, as a nation, to turn our backs on the weak and vulnerable members of our society. They need help. And help must be given to them. The provision for the aged and deserving poor – it’s time it was done. It is rather a shame that we should allow those who have toiled all their days to end in penury and possibly starvation.
It is rather hard that an old workman should have to find his way to the gates of the tomb, bleeding and footsore, through the brambles and thorns of poverty. We should provide social protection against the evils and the sufferings that follow from unemployment.
And as the International Labour Organisation has correctly concluded, no country is too poor to help its citizens. The government should intervene by providing basic needs for the vulnerable. And as Professor Evans Kalula has observed, “if that is done, it will mean that even the vulnerable will somehow participate in economic development and they will have a sense of dignity that comes with taking care of oneself”.
Social protection can have a positive impact on our economic growth in a number of ways. It can finance investment in health and education, protect assets that help people earn an income, encourage risk-taking, promote participation in the labour market and so on and so forth.
There are inevitably trade-offs. For example, if taxes are raised to pay for spending on social protection, taxpayers may have less incentives to work and save. However, social protection, in reducing poverty and inequality, can also lead to greater social unity and a more stable environment for individuals to work, save and invest.
However, care must be taken to strike an appropriate balance between economic incentives and greater provision of social protection. Nevertheless, social protection is a potentially important part of a strategy to increase sustainable, poverty-reducing growth.
However, there is need to be very clear about what social protection is or means. It refers to policies and programmes that aim to help address risk vulnerability and chronic poverty.
And there are a wide range of instruments used for social protection including income support, child grants, disability benefits, and pensions, as well as education-focused tools such as scholarships, school-based feeding programmes. And social protection aims to address the problems of poverty and inequality that act as barriers to a lot of things that are needed for one to lead a dignified life.
Negative perceptions of social protection transfers continue to influence anti-poverty agendas. Most of the concerns raised are based on misconceptions. Social protection can be affordable, even in a poor country like ours, and can be financed sustainably in the medium-term. In the short-term, predictable donor resources may be needed.
Social protection can both alleviate and enable people to escape poverty as transfers are invested in productive activities, human development and improving nutrition. And there is very little evidence that they promote dependency in poor countries.
Whether and how social protection should be targeted depends on the nature of poverty and specific social and political circumstances. And potential misuse of social protection transfers can be avoided by delivering benefits through trusted institutions, ensuring recipients are informed of their entitlements, creating strong oversight mechanisms and minimising opportunities for corruption.
Social protection policies and programmes can make a major contribution to reducing poverty among chronically and severely poor people and securing their rights.
At best, they can stop shocks and stresses pushing people further into poverty; help build assets, in particular, the physical and human capital needed to move out of poverty, cope better with shocks and stresses, or benefit from policies aimed at people living close to the poverty line, protect and promote the well-being and capacities of people who are currently poor; support poor and vulnerable people’s access to essential services; help challenge inequitable social relationships and contribute to individual and group empowerment; contribute to increasing growth by enabling poor people to be more productive; contribute to reducing inequality.
There is need also for us to try and develop new policies and be more inclusive and create a society where people with disabilities are taken into consideration like all other citizens.
It is the accepted belief that disabled people cannot engage in gainful or meaningful employment as they are believed to be sick. Sick people belong in hospital! For this reason, disabled people are placed in sheltered employment to keep them busy. This position needs to be challenged.
In our opinion, the major reason for the non-participation of the disabled people in society, particularly in the workplace, is that we live in a barrier-infested society!
The prime culprit among barriers is people’s negative attitude. If we lived in utopia, everyone would have a non-stereotype attitude, but we don’t. This reflects in the legal practice of our society.
Many artificial barriers are also placed in disabled people’s way. This is evident in the way in which disabled people have difficulties in accessing many services as they are seen as liabilities.
If non-disabled people had a positive attitude towards the disabled, the other barriers would be non-existent. These barriers manifest themselves in the inaccessibility of the built environment that denies disabled people freedom of movement.
The denial of access to equal opportunity in employment, education, sports and recreation as well as culture and religion are barriers that are more difficult to correct than the built environment. The denial of these opportunities is complicated through the lack of appropriate resources, which is the result of uninformed development planning.
This in turn, is due to the denial of self-representation in matters concerning disabled people. Poor planning is also a result of non-communication. This denial is evident in the way in which no effort is made by development agents to communicate with disabled people who cannot access traditional forms of communication.
All these barriers deny disabled people access to employment. Contrary to the general belief that disability is the individual’s problem, it is our view that it affects the whole society. Society has therefore an obligation to remove barriers and become an agent of change. We believe that these barriers exist in the first place due to lack of awareness – it therefore follows that a precondition to the removal of barriers in society is awareness raising.
We therefore need a constitution that strongly outlaws discrimination on the basis of disability, among others.
Persons with disabilities are fully human subjects, with rights and duties. They should participate in every dimension of family and social life. Their dignity is sacred, inalienable and must be respected.
The rights of disabled people must be promoted with effective and appropriate measures. We should accept disabled people as full members of our communities. People with disabilities need to love and to be loved.