Last week we engaged in a debate with one of our members on whether Social Security is showing enough love to our senior citizens and in particular our women.”” The challenge came via a newspaper article published on June 7, 2008.”” My curiosity was piqued by the article as to whether women are disadvantaged by Social Security, and whether they, having made their contribution to society, are really being forced to “eke” rather than live.” Such “ekeing” ” according to the writer – is because the “welfare” payment is small, unadjusted for inflation, and fixed.””” A sad tale indeed; but untrue from a Social Security standpoint. My first reaction was to get angry.” But then I calmed down, remembering that I must never respond in anger and that we have no right to be angry with our clients for expressing their opinion.” Rather, these misguided notions present opportunities for amiable discussions which must be grabbed.” In any case, no purpose would be served with a public quarrel and there is no charge to defend.” So I will focus instead on the role of women in Social Security and examine whether they are indeed disadvantaged. It must be stated up front that Social Security is, first and foremost, an income replacement insurance.” It is not a welfare system; that is the purview of Government.” If there is or was no income, then there is nothing to replace.” Further, when Social Security was introduced, its purpose was to collect contributions and to replace income during old age (pension), sickness, maternity and to help with funeral expenses. Period.” Later, many other areas of benefit were added. One of those added benefits was the removal of bias towards widowers to allow them to qualify for survivor pension.” The legislation only allowed the widow to be paid a survivorship on the death of the husband.” This was changed in 1996 to allow equal opportunity to men.” All told, in St Kitts-Nevis there was an insured population of 24,399 as of 2006.”” Women accounted for 50.14% of this population.” These women reported wages of EC$280,868,000 or 47.54% of the grand total.”” Based on this fact, men contributed more money to social security in absolute terms than women although ” and this must be made clear ” both were and are charged on the same 5% basis.” The data also reveals that a woman’s average wage was EC$22,960 per annum while that for a man was EC$25,479, almost 11% better.” It is safe to state, therefore, that while more women were working in 2006, they were earning less than men.”” Feminists may argue that this is discrimination, but surely that cannot be charged to Social Security.” That is a labour market issue. Meanwhile in the first quarter of 2008, our data show that more women registered for new jobs than men, but only if they, the women were 40 years and older.” Younger men found jobs easier than younger women. The data also show that slightly more men than women became business-owners (and therefore self employed) than women.” For self employment, in trades such as Construction, no women were registered, and in the Health sector and the Hotels/Restaurant sector, no men found jobs last quarter.” In the wholesale/Retail trades, women outnumbered men 11 to 7 while in the transport sector, men out-registered women 10 to 2.” Therefore, there appear to be gender differences within the labour market, but again that cannot be a charge laid to Social Security. Another interesting statistic that has emerged from the 2006 data is this: women’s work seems to be steadier than men’s.” That is to say, women contributed slightly more weeks into Social Security than men did, 52.4% to 47.6%.” Does this mean that men are more likely to be fired than women?” We cannot say using the information that we have.” All we can suggest is that men’s stay in a job is shorter than a woman’s. On the other hand, more men than women stayed in the workforce beyond pension age (1.5% of women compared to 2.9% for men). Let us turn our attention to the output or benefit side. There were 1,642 age pensioners at the end of December, 2006.” Of these, 778 (47.4%) were women.” These women received EC$498,292 compared to the EC$726,473 collected by men.” Average monthly payment was EC640.00 for women and EC$841.00 for men.” Basically the same scenario played out for assistant pensions, invalidity assistance pensions, age grants and in the employment injury benefits branch (except for medical travel expenses).”” Where a great gender disparity is seen is in the area of sickness benefits. Again using the 2006 data, women made 5,106 (i.e. 66.5%) of all sickness benefit claims, and received EC$2,7820,169 (i.e. 60.1%) of all payments made.” They – the women – took 55,551 sick days (these include Saturdays) or 63.5% of all time away from work.” Interestingly, despite this disparity, on average, men’s sick leave was 12 days while that for women was 11 days. Needless to say, maternity benefit is the exclusive domain of women and there is no mirror benefit (paternity) for men.” Even more interesting in this case is the fact that the mother may qualify on the father’s account also.” This is a classical case of what is hers is hers, and what is his may become hers.” Where a single unemployed woman is pregnant, she cannot claim on account of the putative father.”” This was intended to develop single-mindedness in men, but clearly it hasn’t worked. However, there is a movement towards paternity leave that is growing in popularity: The St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Union and the St. Christopher Air and Sea ports Authority signed an agreement about paternity leave on December 13th, 2007.” ” Canada, I am told, has introduced a version of paternity leave in recent times.”” Paternity leave has been asked for in several of our public consultations.” What, God forbid, is to happen to a child if the mother passes shortly after birth? So, does Social Security disadvantage women?” Of course not!” We are a system based on universality, solidarity and equity; principles that exclude gender bias. We strive for those principles at all times.” We have come a long way! Admit it!
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