Barbados is situated left of the North Atlantic belt, which is outside of the hurricane belt. The main industry used to be sugar production, but tourism has far surpassed the sugar industry as Barbados’ main income earner. Barbados is today, the Caribbean’s leading tourism island, and it can also boast being one of the most developed islands in the region. In 2011Barbados is listed as one of the top 50 countries with the highest human development index.
The Inter-American Development Bank conducted the first study on poverty in Barbados which was published in 1998. This document, Poverty and Income Distribution in Barbados, identified a number of key markers with respect to the study of poverty on the island. Some of the main conclusions arising out of this study at the time were:
- The Poverty Line in Barbados was BDS$ 5,503 per capita per year
- Approximately 7000 households in Barbados existed on income below this threshold
- Poverty affected around 13.9 % of the population
- Poverty tended to be concentrated around the urban areas
- Female Headed households represent nearly 60% of poor households nationally.
Since then, the Government of Barbados with the Caribbean Development Bank, finalized the report, “Barbados Country Assessment of Living Conditions” which examined the living conditions of the population, as well as factors affecting the state. The study took a holistic approach, analyzing not only poverty, but all social factors of a society that play a significant role in development.
Over the period 1995 to 2010, Barbados was able to achieve a “very high human development‟ status in terms of the UNDP’s human development index which combines indicators of health and education status and livelihood. Since 1990, it has been ranked among the top 50 countries in the world. The country’s development strategy has been to facilitate the development of the private sector in the production of goods and services.
In addition to providing the regulatory framework for economic and social development, the Government has also sought to maintain macroeconomic stability and foster a Social Partnership involving the representatives of employers and workers. Several policy measures have been introduced to improve the living conditions of the population, covering such areas as health, education, housing, environment, livelihood and social welfare.
Economic Situation Analysis
The economy has seen a shift from being largely agricultural in the 1950s to a high services orientation at present. In addition, it has made the transition to an "innovation driven‟ economy as defined by the World Economic Forum. While the services sector, led by tourism, international business and distribution, was the main driver of economic growth, such growth was modest by comparative standards - approximately 3 percent per annum over the 1995-2010 period.
In general, there was an improvement in the standard and conditions of living over the study period. As a small, open developing country, Barbados is vulnerable to external shocks such as those which occurred in 2001 and 2008-9, leading to a restriction in output, increase in unemployment and, as a consequence, an increase in transient poverty. Furthermore, given the commitments to the WTO and the CSME, policy measures have been taken to liberalise the economy which has meant some re-adjustment in the economy.
The government adopted a policy stance to maintain equilibrium in the BOP and contain the fiscal deficit, while promoting economic growth and employment creation. Unemployment declined significantly over the 1995 to 2010 period and only spiked with the advent of the economic recessions. The labour market witnessed an increase in the educational attainment of workers and the growth in the number of professional females in employment. There is still a high percent of the employed labour force in "low skill" jobs (approximately 60 percent) and youth unemployment remains a challenge.
Challenges and Policy Issues
While there was improvement in health and education, there were still challenges with the health status of the population with respect to chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) and the quality of the output of the school system. There were improvements in the quantity and quality of housing, but as the SLC and PPA studies indicate, there were still pockets of unsatisfactory living conditions among the poor and vulnerable sections of the population.
The features associated with the living conditions in Barbados, especially among the poor are not dissimilar to those in other Caribbean countries. Some of the prominent features include the poor being associated with larger household sizes, more children 15 years and under, overcrowding in households, low human capital, low paying jobs and unemployment, female-headed, concentrated in both urban and rural areas and engagement in informal sector activity.