Bermuda First must help those at bottom’
The Bermuda First committee must help the most economically vulnerable by building the island from the bottom up.
This is the view of executive director for Family Centre, Martha Dismont, who gave her approval to the revival of the group under the Progressive Labour Party government.
Ms Dismont said the One Bermuda Alliance government’s trickle down approach to economics had failed to help the poorest people in society, and urged the PLP to focus on those most in need of support.
She added that the previous Bermuda First group, formed eight years ago under the PLP, had also fallen short of addressing the island’s social difficulties.
Meanwhile, Coalition for the Protection of Children executive director Kelly Hunt urged Bermuda First to prioritise career guidance and job readiness training for vulnerable people, and Age Concern deputy chairman Charles Jeffers said a seniors representative was needed.
Bermuda First was first established in response to the global financial crisis in 2009, under former premier Ewart Brown, and produced 32 recommendations for improving the economy.
It was reformed last Thursday as one of the PLP’s General Election pledges, with former HSBC Bermuda CEO Philip Butterfield named as its chairman.
Ms Dismont told The Royal Gazette: “As much as I respected Bermuda First when it was first established, I was a bit disappointed back then that there wasn’t more of an emphasis on how to strengthen our people socially.
“In my view, we are only as strong as our weakest link and if we don’t invest in the weakest link it is, as [former finance minister] Bob Richards found out, a very difficult job to pull us up from the top. You have to go to where we are struggling and put serious investment there.
“Unfortunately, that bad phrase that it trickles down to the others, I don’t believe that it works very well — it hasn’t proven to as yet.”
Ms Dismont said another critical factor was the “astronomical” cost of living in Bermuda which makes it difficult for middle income groups to stay financially afloat.
“This cost of living is sinking us,” she said. “I am talking to people who are middle income and they are barely surviving. That is very worrisome. Our students go off to university, they come back and bang — they can’t afford to do anything. Then you have the people who are supporting them who are struggling.
“I can’t give people hope when they can’t afford groceries — should we have more feeding centres around the island? How ridiculous is that? You have international companies that will send their administration overseas. It is serving nobody and it should be our greatest concern.
“It is critically important that it looks at the social concerns.
“Also, our economy needs to have expats but we have to look at how we set it up so that their presence here, when we need them, is not impacting us negatively.”
Pathways Bermuda executive director Gita Blakeney Saltus is on the committee, but Mr Dismont said more representation was required for the charitable sector.
She said of Mr Butterfield: “Phil Butterfield is one of the best choices — he is very socially conscious. He has both perspectives and is a good thinking economist in his own right.”
Mr Jeffers also backed the selection of Mr Butterfield but noted a lack of representation for seniors on a group that also includes former premier Sir John Swan, Chamber of Commerce head John Wight, Bermuda College president Duranda Greene, Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert, Ms Blakeney Saltus and eight other members.
He said: “If they are talking about the economy and moving forward, seniors in particular are going to be the biggest population that they are going to have to deal with. Having someone who is working with seniors and dealing with seniors to me would be a valuable asset.
“It will be a huge drag on the economy if we don’t find a way to deal with seniors’ issues.
“Seniors are never represented when it comes to age discrimination in the workplace. No government will touch it because government is trying to cut down their numbers and they are hoping to do it by attrition and retirement.”
Mr Jeffers said that the committee should weigh in on immigration reforms designed to boost the economy.
He said: “I have seven grandchildren — only two of which live in Bermuda. If they decide to become professionals, should they have an easy time coming here even though they were not born here? I think so. They are children of Bermudians they should be allowed to come here and work and to contribute to the economy — we need young people.”
Ms Hunt said it was critical to ensure there were equitable employment opportunities for all Bermudians.
She said: “The goals and strategies required to achieve this will need to be collaboratively formulated so we look forward to hearing the strategic plan of the Bermuda First initiative.
“A critical piece of attaining full economic participation is the ability for individuals to self-actualise.
“Unfortunately, too many Bermudians are feeling disenfranchised in the current climate. We hope that a way forward includes a focus on career guidance and job readiness training for vulnerable persons.”
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