This couple along with other homeless people occupy a stretch of the pavement along Queen Janelle Commissiong Street, Port-of-Spain. KERWIN PIERRE

COVID-19 has unleashed health and economic challenges for T&T, but has also given the country an opportunity to create a value system for a ‘new society’ in which people are expected to operate in an improved manner.

As this new, re-imagined society is developed, focus must be on nurturing the country’s greatest assets—its people—and placing them at the forefront of development.

These were among the recommendations in Phase Two of Government’s Road to Recovery report which among other areas, focused on social protection.

It noted strengthening T&T’s human capital and eliminating barriers that impede development, particularly those arising from social and income inequalities is paramount.

The report added that COVID-19 highlighted the importance of having layers of protection to enable people become better prepared for unplanned and unfortunate events.

These layers, it said, ought to include high standards of public health and well-being, proper shelter, feeling of safety and security, as well as efficient social safety nets.

It said while support continues to be provided to the most vulnerable, T&T has not been as successful in lifting many vulnerable out of the “state that retards their advancement.”

The report advised creating an economy where everyone can find a comfortable space, become self-sufficient and live dignified lives is critical.

Supporting and empowering the vulnerable can also be achieved via a direct net for vulnerable groups through temporary support programmes which will help transition them out as their conditions improve.

“Economic growth and sustainability can assist in easing these problems, but policy measures and targeted programmes play major roles,” the report said.

Presently, there are more than 300 programmes managed across 15 ministries and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), the report identified.

Of these, only 51 are under the control of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.

Other ministries in charge of social programmes include Health (38), Education (25) and the Prime Minister’s Office (51).

The report said anecdotal evidence of duplication, inefficiency and ineffectiveness is “overwhelming.”

It recommended an urgent process to review and rationalise these programmes which must be immediately undertaken.

The report also advised that safety net clients must register for training programmes, including entrepreneurial and skills training, since support will now have a time limit-meaning that graduation from programmes will become the norm.

This, the report said, will be supported by an employment register of available jobs in the public and private sectors to create an avenue which these clients may transition.

To enable for a smoother process, the report said delivery of services programmes be administered on a digital platform and driven by a unique identification system.

This, it explained, will reduce delays in service delivery, the likelihood of people falling through the cracks, reduce fraudulent claims and allow real-time working of safety net clients.

“To address the broader environment of vulnerability there should be a national register and tracking system of target groups including women, children, single fathers and youths,” the report said.

This could be accomplished with the assistance of faith-based organisations, non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and councillors of regional corporations, but will subsequently be supported and reinforced by the proposed unique e-identity system, the report recommended.

Targeted people will also include very low income earners, unemployed with special emphasis on single parents and the aged, the disabled and the seriously ill.

“Such a register will not only build social cohesion, it will address the problems of inequality and inefficiency.

“It will also allow for a co-ordinated national response and tracking system,” the report explained.

It is also recommended a register of agencies and individuals supportive of the vulnerable population be developed.

This will include businesses supportive of the vulnerable and landlords who provide accommodation to such people.

Focus on delivery measures to bring immediate and long-term relief, the report said, should include an integrated community first-responder system.

Family services must also be re-engineered by implementing a data management system to identify households, women, children and single fathers who may require support using various existing data systems, as well as through community level social support programmes offered by civil society and the private sector.

Other recommendations include providing support for elderly women and other vulnerable people living alone, providing mental health support for women and single fathers, and other vulnerable groups and providing safe houses for women with sons over 12 as women with boys over 12 have been turned away from shelters.

The report also advised shelters for displaced men with dependants be established and policies to improve the lives of women and children be implemented such as the national policy on gender and development and a national child policy.

The report said delivery of financial resources to bring immediate relief and provide greater co-ordination in the short, medium and long term must include a financial social support system facilitating training, retraining and the enhancement of meaningful, long-term employment or the establishment of sustainable businesses.

“Fund domestic violence shelters, transitional facilities, strategies to end gender-based violence and family planning programming at the community level,” the report also advised.

Providing community work is also critical as well as support at schools and day care facilities and other community facilities/health institutions, the report added.

The report noted that an important component of this partnership is the integration and active involvement of the private sector in transitioning the vulnerable out of social safety net support.

Recommended measures it outlined include an online portal/hotline through which the private sector can register various forms of assistance for children in need.

Additionally, tax breaks to those who support children’s homes and families in need should also be implemented.

The report further advised there be incentives for the private sector to engage in philanthropy, which aims to develop children and youth

“Implement incentives for private sector organisations that implement systems for work at-home or reduced work from office.

“This is aimed mainly at single mothers and single fathers,” the report suggested

While strides have been made in the last five years to improve the availability and quality of primary and secondary health care, more needs to be done to ensure proper and reliable health care to all, and to move from a society battling chronic non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and heart disease, to one that focuses on NCD prevention through education and improved lifestyle choices, the report advised.

A universal health insurance for T&T was therefore, proposed as the report noted research from UWI has shown the cost of such a system is less than what countries currently spend on health care.

“Moreover, because of the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) facing the country, the proposed Universal Health Insurance for T&T aims to cover mainly primary care in its first phase,” the report explained.

It added the intention is to include hospital care after the current programme of expansion is completed and steps taken to boost hospital efficiency.

“The uncertainties brought on by COVID-19, the recommendation for the introduction of Universal Health Insurance in T&T is very timely, remembering that, as WHO has alerted, social health insurance is one of the main platforms for assuring everyone living in the country a decent level of health coverage,” the report added.