Shanty towns, shame, and a needed solution

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Shanty towns, shame, and a needed solution

Jason
McKay

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Last week I spoke of the Beveredge report and its part in influencing the creation of the welfare state. It was the primary instrument of influence on Clement Attlee's reform programme in post-World War II UK.

Well, if I learned one thing from the response to the article it's that Jamaicans feel very strongly on two subjects. One is Micheal Manley and his period of governance, and the other is the issue of people getting money from the State as a handout.

We seem to either see Manley as a saviour to the poor or the man who walked us to the brink of total disaster. And it seems we are also really against welfare.

Based on the responses, or should I say the outcry, I felt a follow-up on that article is required.

So here we go.

I am a pragmatist. I don't look for the solution I wish would work, I look for the one I know will work. So what was my motive of advocating social housing and social welfare? Well, not because I think it will fix every problem, but because I think it will fix some problems.

What problems you might ask? Well, first it will fix the issue of children growing up in squalor. It may encourage laziness, create a culture of dependence, and really pressure the national purse. But at least no more kids will be raised in filth. It may or may not reduce killing.

The murder/poverty connection is a contentious issue with many opinions, and we won't know till we try. What I can tell you is that 90 per cent of all murder suspects or accused between 2015 and 2018, in one area under study, came from squatter settlements. This is a major factor to consider.

There is also that core belief that it's not our responsibility to oversee the raising of other people's children. I believe this is a flawed concept if looked on in isolation. And trust me, this flaw will become abundantly clear when one of those squatter children, fully grown, is standing in front of you with a gun in his hand.

The point is, we know where the future killers are. They are right there tiny, barefooted, and living between zinc. And they will grow!

You see, we are in a position to do the right thing whilst still being selfish. Because there is a direct link between the squalor and the gun culture, the deprivation and the violence.

An old friend of mine named Rodney McPherson, who has worked in England's social system, once suggested to me that the National Housing Trust (NHT) should focus on social housing as a priority. I thought it seemed unfair as the non-contributors would benefit more than the contributors. But looking at it now, I sometimes wonder if the current model is really what Michael Manley envisioned. Does it really seem that helpful to contribute to a fund that lends you money? Is the NHT interest rate that much lower than what the banks and mortgage companies are offering?

Well it is, but remember you contribute every damn month. How many houses does the NHT actually build and offer to market? Is it really a solution for the poor as Manley intended, or is it providing solutions for a handful of deserving few. To be frank, are paupers really in any position to benefit? So maybe Macky was right?

I hate freeness, but I prefer to think of the child who will benefit from social housing rather than the adult who will abuse it.

Will it help the fight against crime? Well, concrete ghettos are far easier to police than shanty towns.

Will it reduce killing in the long run? I believe it will if it is not done in isolation and if the benefits issued are not politically determined. It also has to be accompanied by social assistance.

It's going to be contentious. I know this.

I had referenced rural Jamaica and their lack of violent activity vs the shanty towns. Well, one angry little person sighted fruit trees, not social assistance, as the remedy for violent crime. See what I mean?

I think we can't continue hiding from the reality that these settlements are breeding killers. I think we can't continue to pretend that it's OK for kids to grow like pigs because we say it's their parents' responsibility that they do better. That's not a country, that's a conflict zone.

We also can't choose to emulate other countries' practices on issues they force us to. England, the United States of America, and Western Europe determine our human rights policies. They do this by using their money and our lack of it. So we accept their dictates. Are we only going to start to follow their lead in social housing and social welfare when they order us to? Or I daresay threaten us to. Or could we fix this without them and their sharpened pokers?

Lord Beveredge, in his report, spoke of the five evils as 'want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness'. He was describing 1942 England. Other than disease, the other four are really in your face in every one of these squatter settlements 78 years later. I would argue there are few paupers in Britain today.

The question is not only why pauperism still exists here, but rather why are we so comfortable with it?

All of us are where we are because someone in our life helped us. It may be our parents giving us the care required for us to be better, or it may be someone giving us an opportunity. But none of us really did it alone. I am suggesting a long-term solution to end generational poverty that began with a badly implemented Emancipation process – not by turning Jamaica into a welfare state. But I accept it could occur as a result.

Well, I like solutions. So here it is. Use the NHT as it was envisioned to build social housing. Introduce social assistance and remove the label of 'pauper', because trust me, it's pauperism I'm seeing in those settlements every day.

Use social benefits as a control mechanism against crime. If you are charged criminally you can't get the monthly benefit and you can't get social housing. You create something they can lose.

And start looking at all of us as one of us. We are one country, and unfortunately crime is the web that connects us. We all are in fear and we all have buried friends or family!

We won't stop living in fear till none of us live in shame.

Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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