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Dismont: do more to face ‘core challenges’

Laundry list: Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre

Charities and other community workers had hoped the Government would outline a “more strategic focus” in its Throne Speech.

Martha Dismont, the Family Centre executive director, welcomed initiatives to help Bermudians struggling financially but said other urgent issues and their root causes also needed to be addressed. She listed drugs, crime, violence and poor educational outcomes among the challenges that must be tackled to help the island to prosper.

Her comments came after the Throne Speech revealed government plans to bring about tax reform that will reflect people’s ability to pay, as well as a livable wage, cheaper healthcare and lower power costs. It also pledged that a merit-based programme will mean Bermuda College scholarships would be offered to public-school students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Ms Dismont said: “While we appreciate that Government is focused on its stated agenda, there continue to be growing challenges in Bermuda.

“Aside from the huge debt problem that we are facing, the urgent and concerning issues in this community by way of current experience with families, other social service providers, and the layman on the street are the following: poor outcomes in public education, the need for job skills and job training for young males, and females, and the average Bermudian, more employment or job creation, tackling the causes of crime and violence, and ... the high cost of living.

“While moving towards a livable wage is encouraging, and to be celebrated, and supporting the Bermuda College with greater opportunity and access for our youth is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t feel like we are making a dent with the average Bermudian family who, if they are not struggling with financial challenges themselves, are certainly trying to support family members who are struggling.

“Recognising the limited budget of Government, many of us were looking for more strategic focus on these core challenges.”

She added: “As heartening as it is to see that Government recognises the importance of tackling the high cost of living in Bermuda, we wouldn’t want that effort to mask the combined need to address the other woes which would be detrimental to the island even if our cost of living was lower.

“Substance addiction, crime, violence, poor educational outcomes, and joblessness will sink the island’s chance for success, if we do not tackle the causes of these conditions simultaneously.”

The Throne Speech was delivered by John Rankin, the Governor, on behalf of the Government on Friday.

Government plans more relief on mortgage payments, designed to boost disposable income, which can be returned to the local economy, saved or invested.

Mr Rankin said the first measure in tax reform will be a change to social insurance to end fixed-rate contributions in favour of a system based on percentage of income.

Ms Dismont said: “It is important to consider the needs of the lower income bracket, and yes, this is a start to help those families.

“The greater need is to begin to address the reason for the high costs, because otherwise the costs will continue to increase, and those of greater means will resent the fact that they are paying to support those of lower means.”

She described any reduction in expenses as a “win”.

Ms Dismont added: “Making it possible for locals to have more money in their pocket and eventual greater disposable income is vitally important.

“This allows locals to consider reinvesting in Bermuda.”