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Easing the burden on Bermudians

Jamahl Simmons.(Photo by Akil Simmons)

Today, there are Bermudians who work 40 hours a week or more and are taking home less than $2,000 a month after taxes, pension and health insurance are deducted. More than half their monthly income is spent on just keeping a roof over their heads.

Add in an electricity bill and transportation costs, and their salary is gone before they have even put food on the table.

As the recession has worsened, the numbers of Bermudians in this position have moved beyond the traditional working poor. They are the educated and the not so educated. They are the responsible and, in some cases, the irresponsible. But most importantly they are us: our neighbours, our friends, our family.

When your salary barely covers your necessities, when your working conditions are poor, stressful or physically demanding and when you have little chance of advancement or improving your condition, the smallest thing can push your family into deeper poverty, debt or despair.

Whether it is an increase in bus fare, a rise in health insurance or your car breaking down, you have no margin for error and it is easy to fall behind on your bills, fall into debt and give up hope.

Too many of our people are working extremely hard with little or nothing to show for it. More and more Bermudians are beginning to believe that they have little hope of ever building a better future for themselves or their children.

We can point the finger at them, look down at them and call them names, or we can begin to take a serious look at how we can improve their lives and Bermuda for the better.

While the business community has been extremely resistant to the introduction of a livable wage, we must work on raising the relative income of our working poor. The PLP’s Vision 2025 proposes:

Comprehensive tax reform: updating our outdated tax structure so that those who earn the least, pay the least in taxes and have more money in their pockets at the end of the month.

Driving down monthly electric bills by reforming how fuel is taxed, making monthly bills lower for everyone, with a particular emphasis on easing the burden on those who can least afford it.

Investing in the training and retraining of Bermudians to fill roles in higher-paying jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign expertise.

Comprehensive education reform to provide our children with the necessary tools for occupational and entrepreneurial success, social mobility, financial literacy and for future generations of Bermudians to move from being spectators to positions of leadership in our workforce and in our economy.

Putting more money in Bermudians’ pockets enables them to begin saving, spending a bit more in our stores and restaurants, and contributing even more to to our economy. Yet we can’t stop at just increasing Bermudians’ take-home pay. We must also create a pathway to upward mobility.

In the months ahead, the PLP will continue to roll out Vision 2025 and our upward-mobility agenda that not only eases the burden on Bermuda’s working poor, but also:

1, Addresses structural and institutional impediments to upward mobility

2, Expands access to training, retraining, career development and higher education

3, Addresses life choices that hinder upward mobility

4, Promotes entrepreneurship and “Doing For Self”

5, Stops the jailing of Bermudians for debt

Reducing income inequality and poverty are critical components of creating economic growth and maintaining social stability. We envision a Bermuda that cares about our poor, seeks ways to improve their lives and that has a pathway out of poverty for anyone who is willing to put in the work and sacrifice.

• Jamahl Simmons is the PLP MP for Sandys South (Constituency 33). To learn more about the PLP’s Vision 2025, visit www.plp.bm