Eighty-four percent of Fiji’s Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation’s $200.2 million budget is allocated to social protection programs.
Of its total funding, $170.9 million has been committed to specific programs including $78.2 million allocated for the social pension scheme, $45.6 million for the Family Assistance Scheme (FAS) previously known as the Poverty Benefit Scheme, $16.4 million for Allowance for Persons with Disability, $19.9 million is set aside for Child Protection Allowance and a further $10.0 million for bus fare allowance.
Over 97,000 recipients benefit from these programs, with increased allowances and support for those graduating from social protection schemes.
Assistant Minister Sashi Kiran highlighted that alongside the aid provided by the diverse social protection scheme, the implementation of graduation schemes will enable the ministry to redirect its limited resources to assist others in need.
“It is important to remember, the department does not currently support everyone in need. We have many applications for assistance which are still unmet for lack of funds. So we must be able to use our money as wisely as possible,” Kiran said.
“Most important, is the need for us to help our people move off schemes such as the Family Assistance Scheme to improve incomes through economic empowerment, skills development, and pathways for employment. Sometimes it is just a matter of making the right connections.”
Kiran highlighted one such success story between a major hotel group and a non-government organisation (NGO) that has a database of unemployed women. The hotel industry was facing difficulties in replacing staff due to losses overseas, but through relevant connections facilitated by the NGO, hundreds of trainees were recruited into the hotel group’s training program.
She said such links underlined the importance of NGOs and CSOs having the knowledge and connections to assist in gaps that the government cannot respond promptly to. As such she is thankful for an allocation of $200,000 set aside for community-based organisations that promote women’s social and economic empowerment.
To ensure an integrated social protection system in order to improve targeting, effectiveness, coverage, and impact on poverty reduction, the department plans an overhaul of its information system.
At the moment, information on welfare recipients is spread across multiple databases. An allocation of $3 million with the assistance of the Australian Government has been set aside in this year’s budget to assist in better coordination of the department’s support to benefit those most in need.
Retaining Girls Who Have Turned 18 at Orphanages
Previously, girls in orphanages who turn 18 were required to leave regardless of their individual circumstances.
The ministry has now decided to retain all girls who reach the age of 18 and enroll them in skills programs that provide economic pathways, to prepare them for the job market or to become entrepreneurs.
“Each one of these young women is a human being – like all of us, with different hopes, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. They do not necessarily respond in the same way to a training programme. But it is an improvement on the gap that we had before. This is an example of where, as a Ministry, we need to be less rule-bound and more focused on the people we serve. It only takes a little bit of thinking and recognition that people are not numbers. We have to continue to do better.”
Renovation of State Homes
In addition, the ministry has allocated funds for the maintenance of homes that accommodate young people and the elderly.
Pearly Gates Home in Suva has received an allocation of $100,000, which will cover the costs of equipment and infrastructure maintenance, as well as administrative expenses.
Furthermore, the ministry has designated over $700,000 for the refurbishment of the former Ba Mission Hospital complex. The objective is to transfer the operations of the Golden Age Home in Lautoka to this location, allowing for the necessary scoping works to upgrade the Golden Age Home. An amount of $250,000 has been specifically set aside for works.