Call to give families help as food prices set to soar
Both Opposition parties called for families to be given help as experts predict the international cost of food is set to soar to a record level.
Global food prices are at their highest in 20 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, with further increases expected as unrest in the Middle East sends oil prices up.
The United Bermuda party and Bermuda Democratic Alliance yesterday both warned families are already struggling enough with the high price of food on the Island.
UBP leader Kim Swan called for counselling to be made available for residents, so they can be sure to prioritise spending on necessities like food, rent and utilities.
BDA finance spokesman Michael Fahy said the poor would be disproportionately affected by any food price hike, and repeated the Alliance's call for a payroll tax break for people earning $50,000 or less.
Mr Swan said in a statement yesterday: “Poor financial management by Government has made Bermuda susceptible to increased social problems when cost of living rises.
“Too many Bermudians are facing hardship never experienced before and we need Government and political leaders to rise to the challenge.
“I have been concerned about the cost of living in Bermuda for quite some time and expressed the widening economic gap long before this current economic crisis hit Bermuda.”
Mr Swan said Government had ignored Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards' advice to save for a rainy day during the good times.
“The Country is in a poor economic position and the people are today in a most vulnerable position with Government in the worst position to help them,” he said.
“Mr and Mrs Bermuda are feeling the pinch like never before and with the ugly economic picture in Bermuda and turmoil around the world matters are getting worse due to rising oil prices and increased cost to the transport of food.”
Mr Swan said Bermuda is already badly affected by the economic crisis, with the drugs trade and gang culture being fuelled by people “over reliant on the criminal trade to survive”.
“Government must be ever mindful of and tackle the financial hardship that many families are facing head on and do so with all deliberate speed,” he said.
“Families must be urged and encouraged to prioritise their spending and ensure their major expenses are met: food; rent or mortgage; utilities.
“Many families need counselling to plan how to navigate through this period. Some need financial help as well.”
Mr Fahy said: “Rising food prices are going to adversely affect everyone in Bermuda, particularly on the most basic products from bread to milk to eggs. Everything will be affected.
“That disproportionately affects those already on low income and those possibly made redundant because of the economic crisis.
“We have no control over rising food prices. That's just the nature Bermuda is. But Bermuda is in a bad place because the economy has been so badly managed over this period of time that everything is going to be affected so much worse.
“The BDA proposed some time ago anyone making less than $50,000 doesn't pay payroll tax, to give them extra income. We still believe that could really make a difference to families in need.”
The FAO said last Friday that its food price index was up 2.2 percent last month, the highest level since January 1990 when it started monitoring prices.
It also was the eighth consecutive month that food prices had risen. In January, the index had already registered a record peak.
The increase was driven mostly by higher prices of cereals, meat and dairy products.
Global oil prices increased amid concerns about the potential impact of supply disruptions following unrest in Libya. That drives up food prices through extra production and transport costs.
David Hallam, director of FAO's trade and market division, said in a statement: “Unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets.
“This adds even more uncertainty concerning the price outlook just as plantings for crops in some of the major growing regions are about to start.”