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HelpAge official: PATH means test leaving seniors behind

... Raises concerns about illiteracy among the elderly

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 03, 2013    

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THE eligibility test for the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) has continued to malign a worrying fraction of Jamaica's 305,135 elderly citizens, a HelpAge International official has said.

"It's a little better now, so in the last four years the number of older people beneficiaries have moved from about 40,000 to 60,000 because they have relaxed the system, but the means test is still making a large number of people ineligible," Jeffrey James, regional director for HelpAge International Caribbean Offices, told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

PATH is a conditional cash-transfer programme introduced by the Jamaican Government and the World Bank in 2002 to channel benefits by way of cash grants to the most needy and vulnerable in the society.

To qualify for PATH, an applicant must satisfy the eligibility criteria of the programme that he or she is a member of a poor family. This is done through the application of a Proxy Means Test. On the basis of the information submitted and the application of the electronic Beneficiary Identification System (BIS), families that meet the established criteria are selected.

But, according to James, the eligibility process — though well intentioned — has prevented aid from getting to those who need it most.

"We have worked on this whole business of getting persons to access social assistance through PATH. We work with our partners to get persons registered but that in itself has created a whole set of problems because as one gentleman said: 'The computer reject mi'," he told the Observer.

"What we have found with older people is that they suffer from income poverty; they might have assets that might render them in the eyes of some people as not being poor and that is a key issue," he said, in attempting to explain why some individuals may have fallen from the safety net.

In the meantime, James said the inability of many of the nation's elderly to read and write continues to be a disturbing reality.

"Literacy, that's a serious problem. It took me a long time to recognise that it is a major issue. In Jamaica you don't know it because some of the most articulate older people you can find, people who can stand up and express themselves very well so you never know that they can't read and write... they are most articulate and they never tell you," he told the Observer.

"How I came to recognise that this is an issue when we are doing the livelihood projects we would have a business training component and persons will be shown how to keep records but it's always a problem; you do the training but they won't keep the records and it was years after that we realise what the issue was," he said.

The problem is a literacy and numeracy one.

"To the extent that some of them don't even recognise numbers, they would make a lot of mistakes with the $100 and $1,000 notes because they recognise money by the colour. They know the Nanny ($500) but some of them will give you a $1,000 for a $100 because the colour of the two notes are similar so they recognise the money by the colour and not what is written on the note," he said.

That condition has life-threatening implications, he pointed out.

"They have the same problem with them and their medication. They can't follow the directions when they fill the prescriptions. If it says take twice, three times a day, they can't read that unless they have someone to assist them, and that's a serious problem," James noted.

"We need to do some literacy work and that is one of the areas we need to start with: they are not going to accept or acknowledge it so you have to get around it in another way," he told the Observer.

He said HelpAge International, which has made its mandate to help older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, will be assisting from the sidelines.

"Once we do these types of projects (self-help) we introduce that aspect (literacy), so for example, when we are helping them to fill out forms for PATH we will use that to teach them literacy skills," he said.

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