Whilst we as temporary visitors or returning residents may worry about how far our hard-earned pound or dollar is going to last in Jamaica for the duration of our stay. There is a real situation out there for the poor and disadvantaged in Jamaica. Many Jamaicans have have never had the opportunity to leave Jamaica to earn a foreign ‘dollar’ and experience living in another country. This causes some Jamaican’s to have stereotypical views of foreigners as being wealthy and having easily affordable and replaceable stuff.
Yes, you will find people in Jamaica who prefer to shub out their hand rather than try and find work, the same as in any other country. The UK is certainly just as bad, if not worse for this trait with people taking advantage of the welfare system. But, look beyond this because The Fact Is: Life is hard for the average working class Jamaican.
At times you may have felt the victim of a Jamaican assuming that life is a bed of roses ‘dere a foreign’ (abroad), or got annoyed at a vendor trying to sell you their wares, or the beggar on the street stretching out their hand to you, but there is more to the situation than first appears…. Let me break down what I have gleaned about the living expenses versus wages earned in Jamaica debate and see if I can shift your opinion even slightly.
Jamaican Living Expenses
The Jamaican Government taxes most purchases 20% (General Consumption Tax), so that means every day grocery prices are sky-high and it is cheaper to buy plantain and bananas in London than it is in Jamaica and you can easily spend $5,000 a week or more (if you are frugal) on household shopping if you live outside of the country areas; this post: http://www.sweetjamaica.co.uk/food-shopping-is-expensive-in-jamaica/ has more information on this.
Additionally, JPS (Jamaica Public Service) the sole electricity supplier in Jamaica has some of the highest rates for electricity I have ever come across, having paid bills of up to $8,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment; again this has been broken down in a former post, which can be found here: http://www.sweetjamaica.co.uk/jps-provider-of-electric-power-in-jamaica/
Household Expenses in Jamaica
Where residents have piped water the N.W.C (National Water Commission) also charges steeply and you can expect to pay at least $2,000 a month for the supply.
Rent can be anywhere from $9,000 a month for a room to $50,000 and more for a one bedroom apartment in the popular busy areas that have more work opportunities.
If you have children, you need to supply uniforms, books and school bags and you will need to find around $80 a day for lunch and breaks per child for primary school age children, plus school fees, travelling expenses and lunch money for the high school age children.
All this is before you have paid for your own lunch and travelling expenses to even get to work, which may equate to up to $1,000 a day depending on how far away from your workplace that you live.
We haven’t started on expenditure for clothes, household items, healthcare, leisure, beauty products and so on. With these few examples of living expenses, can you start to identify with the problems some Jamaicans have with managing to live off of their income?
To further put things into perspective I heard an advert on the radio for The National Housing Trust Jamaica, that was offering assistance to low-income workers to own their own home and it stated that hotel workers earning less than $10,000 a week could apply. That equates to about £68.02 for a long and hard weeks work at todays going rate, sometimes with little thanks from the guests or mega rich hoteliers. I could have cried at the injustice and further understood why there is such a tipping culture in Jamaica.
To add insult to injury I saw a massive billboard for a very large and famous Jamaican hotel chain which was celebrating its anniversary. Most startling about the prominently placed billboard was that the hotel chain was boasting that it brought in the most foreign exchange into the country…. Umm, if that is the case, then why aren’t the hotel workers that enable you to earn those ridiculous profits earning more money then?
I then heard another article on Irie FM radio station, that stated that persons in Barbados earn around double what Jamaicans earn, and those from Trinidad earn around 4 times what Jamaicans earn for doing the same type of work. All of these countries are based in the same region and yet the similarities end there as the poverty gap widens due to anomalies in earning capacity and incomes.
If you look in The Gleaner (Jamaican national newspaper) there are vacancies advertised where the average low-income worker can expect to earn up to $1,000 a day for casual work, or for other jobs that are classed as ‘menial’ work, tradespeople can earn sometimes $2,000 – $3,000 per day, restaurant workers could earn maybe $7,000 a week…. Jamaica does not have a welfare or benefits system like we have in the UK or USA, where the Government is able to hand out hundreds of pounds to citizens. Anyone can do the maths, this makes the living conditions and constraints hard for the everyday person in Jamaica.
Think about it when you complain about the attitude of some of the staff or those who look for a tip in Jamaica. If you were earning less than £100.00 for a 6 day week would you not feel over worked and under paid and perhaps you too would be looking for a way to boost your income in a way that prevented you from relying on criminal activities?
With all this to consider and with the unemployment figures rising in Jamaica, it is time for all of us to look at the hard-working and trying Jamaicans in a different light. Not everyone has had the means, education, opportunity, luck or otherwise to get an ‘office job’ or a ‘9 to 5’ as we would call it in the UK, so please ‘mi a beg yuh du’ next time you come across a vendor, higgler, shop or hotel worker, gas pump attendant, farmer and so on, don’t just ignore them or treat them with contempt, support their endeavours where you can and do it with a smile! As they in their own small way are forging a path for themselves and their dependants to somehow, someway, ‘tek a ruff life easy’. If you are unable to support them, or don’t want to spend that day, a simple ‘No, thanks’ will do and they will leave you alone!
The National Housing Trust (NHT)
For those that don’t know, the National Housing Trust (NHT) was set up by the Government of Jamaica to lend money at low-interest rates to those contributors who either want to buy, build, repair, or improve their homes, or for those who wish to build or buy on lots. They also develop housing schemes across the island for sale to contributors and they give low-cost financing to private developers. They have become very successful in collecting billions of dollars in revenue and interest from the loans, so much so that they have been at the centre of a debate in parliament as whether to raid the piggy bank over the next few years to help alleviate the debt crisis in Jamaica.
In reality this means that all persons in Jamaica aged between 18 years old and retirement age, whom are in legal employment (whether employed or self-employed) are expected to pay 3% of their income (3% gross for employed persons and 3% net for self-employed persons) into the National Housing Trust Scheme. Should the person need a low-interest loan from the NHT they must have been paying this contribution for a least 52 weeks, before they can even apply to use the highly over subscribed loan service. If contributors do not wish to apply for a loan based on these contributions for a home, they have to wait 8 years before being able to apply for a refund of these contributions. There are other stipulations to these contributions which are described in-depth and more information on the organisation can be found on their website, at http://www.nht.gov.jm