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Senator Donna Cox, Minister of Social Development.

Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox says her ministry stands ready to support Government’s plans to revitalise and reset the economy through a multi-faceted, wide-ranging and responsive social safety net.

Cox’s comments came minutes after the presentation of the 2020/2021 Budget by Finance Minister Colm Imbert concluded yesterday.

The theme for this year’s Budget presentation was Resetting the Economy for Growth and Innovation.

In keeping with this year’s Budget theme, Cox said many of the concerns that were outlined in July’s Report of the Roadmap for Recovery Committee 2020, such as the areas of empowerment and resilience, will be among the most critical on the agenda for recovery and sustainability.

She added that the objectives and input of her ministry remain key in this regard, as it serves as the voice of the most vulnerable, particularly in times of social and economic crisis.

She assured the ministry intends to continue maintaining the human-centred approach in the delivery of its social services, with continued payments of all grants inclusive of public assistance, senior citizens’ pension and disability assistance.

“The COVID-19 experience has resulted in an expansion of the safety-net offerings and as such, the implementation of the National Social Mitigation Plan will be top priority in the ministry’s stream of work during this fiscal period,” Cox said.

“It is the ministry’s intention to strengthen and improve the mechanisms associated with social services delivery. This will be done through a framework of institutional re-engineering and digital transformation.”

Cox said measures to be undertaken include the establishment of a Social Support and Empowerment (SSE) Unit for the integration of Government grants via a single door policy to social services, where information on a register of agencies and services accessible to the vulnerable will be made available. A call-centre is also going to be set up to support this initiative.

Other measures include the implementation of an Integrated Services Enterprise Management System (ISEMS). This, she said, will represent the modernised way of providing social services at the ministry, in terms of processes and systems for greater targeting and information management of the vulnerable.

The launch of the National Services Card System will also track vulnerable populations and take social services to those most in need, she added.

“To complement the thrust towards the social and economic empowerment of citizens and in keeping with efforts to enhance this country’s contributions to the establishment of a global digital society, the report by the Roadmap Committee also outlined the need to strengthen social safety net programmes with the use of technology. In this regard, it is necessary to ensure continued accountability, transparency and responsiveness at the core of the provision of essential social services,” Cox said.

“Digitisation of all social services and government grants will be critical, particularly as more focus will be placed on the following groups, who were affected by the pandemic.”

These groups include families, single mothers, women and children, persons with disabilities, older persons, at-risk youths and the socially displaced, she said.

Welcoming the placement of additional disposable income in the hands of families, Cox said, “This will apply to situations where an individual who earns $7,000 or less per month, that person will not be required to pay income tax.”

She also endorsed the initiative to expand existing wi-fi hotspots, provide Mi-Fi units to students and establish more internet cafes in all areas of T&T, as this would allow families who do not have access in their homes and surrounding areas to be provided with this service to assist in online teaching and learning.

Cox said her ministry will play an important role in identifying families in need and committed to working closely with communities, NGOs, civil society organisations and community groups, as well as the private sector, with a view to a more integrated approach to social services delivery.