Post 393.

Thinking about the economy as it falls apart, like chunks of glaciers breaking off and melting away, I’m wondering where to turn for the socio-economic forecasting absolutely critical at this time.

Not only have government revenues plummeted, but businesses – from factories to the small, independent cobbler in Trincity Mall – are facing reduced revenues, cutbacks and possible closures. Some will not recover after their losses or the impact to their lives. The words of a Flavorite Food Ltd worker speaks for so many:

“Families were broken up. Employees were evicted. Some are owing bank loans and they cannot pay. Most of us signed up for salary relief but didn’t get it as yet. I am a single parent with a mortgage to pay…My daughter was even accepted into the University of the West Indies, but we had to decline the offer because we don’t have the money to pay the tuition.”

We may be buoyed by deficit-financing over the Government’s term, but stories of hardship will rise around us for at least the next two years. What is our plan? By plan I don’t mean the Recovery Report, I mean anticipating the social impacts and rearranging state strategies to tackle the demographics and outcomes of such increased insecurity. Has anyone done a forecast of the likely socio-economic scenario in two years, and can we begin to work backward knowing the specific and increased vulnerabilities to plan for from now?

I began searching around for such forecasting after last week’s column where I wondered whether health officials had anticipated a rise in child abuse, as a result of school closures, pandemic stress and continued economic contraction.

If we know reports rise in October, but that teachers were no longer the point of direct access to abused children and a source of reports made for their protection, was there any strategy we should have mobilised once the decision was made to close schools? Such forecasting could have led to a national communication strategy to highlight this risk (for example, through the Ministry of Health updates), and increased and strategic use of nurses at health centres and even community police to fill a gap in recognising victims.

We can say the same thing about education. Where schools have stayed open in some countries, teachers have been absent in critical numbers because of the delays in getting covid19 test results. Yesterday’s UK newspaper, the Guardian, ran a story on some schools increasing their class sizes to up to 60 pupils as teachers in as many as 45 per cent of schools self-isolated while waiting for test results. Timely test results remain a challenge here so if we open schools in January or September 2021, can we forecast similar staff absences? Seeing these examples ahead of time, what should be our plan?

National budgets are prepared on the basis of requests from ministries and stakeholder lobbying, but to what extent are they a response to labour data, and an understanding of where women will likely be in two years as they currently occupy the lowest level tiers of income, are fewer small-business employers, are more likely to lose their jobs in service and retail sectors, and will have their capacity to work more greatly impacted by care responsibilities. Is our fiscal policy forecasting which labour market and gender inequalities will increase and aiming to tackle these in its approach to economic stimulus and diversification?

The Survey of Living Conditions, which provides measures of poverty, provides a picture from 2005, though that data suggested that Sangre Grande, Princes Town, Siparia, Mayaro/Rio Claro and Point Fortin, in that order, were the municipalities with the highest number of poor people. A 2020 survey is on hold because of covid19. A National Poverty Reduction Strategy was also to have been completed by the end of the year, and I would welcome seeing how it intersects increased poverty with increased family violence, educational disparities, and exacerbated vulnerability of children.

The National Social Mitigation Plan 2017-2022, developed to respond to the economic downturn prior to covid19, described the following: fall in real GDP, increase in debt, increased unemployment for youth, gender disparities in the labour market, increased retrenchment, fewer job vacancies, increase in depression, suicide and substance use, increased family conflict, increased criminal motivation.

Just thinking aloud today, is it possible to do some intelligent and collective forecasting and build a response in relation to what we can anticipate? Otherwise, it feels like we wait to reach before wondering what we should do.