Director's Social Security Week 2020 Radio Address
Good day. It is my pleasure to address you on the occasion of Social Security Week, 2020. Every year, the Social Security Board celebrates Social Security Week in the week in which November 3rd falls, that date being the anniversary of the passage of the Social Security Act into law on November 3rd, 1980. This year 2020 is therefore a special anniversary, the fortieth, and accordingly the Social Security Week's theme this year is quite appropriate: "40 Years after the Act, We're Secure! And that's a Fact!"
One may ask what is so important about this event which took place 40 years ago, before perhaps a majority of our island's population was even born. Quite simply put, the Social Security Act (1980) is the foundation for the Social Security System, which today touches the lives of almost every single one of us in some way. Its passage was piloted by then Chief Minister of Anguilla, the Honorable James Ronald Webster. Mr Webster carried many titles and descriptors, including: Chief Minister; Revolutionary Leader; and Father of the Nation; but in this regard, he was a true Visionary. A visionary, in that promoting the Social Security Act at a time when there was little economic development or formal employment in Anguilla was a demonstration of his confidence that, some day, such employment would exist, and, of his concern that those workers would need the protection of a Social Security System. By resolutely piloting the Act through the House of Assembly, in spite of the opposition of nay-sayers, Mr. Webster also demonstrated faith, which Hebrews 11:1 defines as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". Every development, such as a social security system, starts with a vision, and so it is indeed appropriate that we recognize and celebrate the Visionary, Mr. Webster, whose vision is celebrated this week together with our celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Social Security Act. We also remember all those who played some role in the passage of the Act and its administration over the past four decades. Of course, we recognize that the Social Security System's strong foundation is also due to the tremendous support of the employers and employees of Anguilla over the years.
The Act, and the Regulations made under the Act, provide the foundation for the Social Security System, which has been varyingly described as "a developmental showpiece, continuing to impact heavily on the general wellbeing of the Anguillian people - a linchpin in the sustainable development of the Anguillian economy and the bedrock of the future security and happiness of our people" (Colville Petty, first Director of Social Security), and as "recognized throughout Anguilla as playing by far the most critical and important role by providing an effective short-term as well as long-term safety net for the working people of Anguilla" (Fabian Fahie, first Chairman of the Social Security Board). Over almost 40 years now, the System has allowed thousands of persons to state, in the words of the Anniversary Theme "We are secure, and that's a fact!" The benefits assured by the Act - Sickness, Maternity, Funeral, Old Age, Survivor's, Disability, Old Age Non-Contributory, and most recently, Paternity - allow those who contribute to the Social Security System to live with dignity when they are unable to work because of the uncertainties of life such as illness or disability, or in their senior years, after a lifetime of employment, or when the breadwinner in their family dies.
One of the realities of life in this twenty-first century is that our times are less predictable, and accordingly major shocks may occur that threaten our way of life, and perhaps our very existence. Anguilla has had to deal with three such major shocks within the last decade or so: the Global Economic Crisis which lasted about 10 years beginning in 2008, Hurricane Irma in 2017, and now in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic. After Hurricane Irma, the Social Security Act was amended to provide that temporary unemployment and underemployment benefits could be paid to those whose employment was affected by extreme events. The Social Security System accordingly covered those, mainly in the tourism industry, whose jobs were wiped out by the catastrophic effects of Irma. Those same provisions allowed a similar response to the COVID-19 pandemic in April of this year. However, the unemployment level due to the pandemic has been much higher, and sustained for a much longer period. Accordingly, the System has already paid over $10 million in temporary Covid-19 Unemployment and Underemployment benefits, about half of which is being refunded by the Government of Anguilla. These responses have demonstrated the responsiveness of the Social Security System beyond the original benefit structure provided under the Act. However, they have also demonstrated that there is a pressing need for a new, permanent Unemployment Benefit, to be included among the System's benefits. No system can continue to pay benefits which have not been funded by dedicated contribution revenues.
These responses, as well as other issues, have also demonstrated that the legislation originally passed in 1980 are in some respects no longer adequate or relevant, and that changes are required if the System is to be responsive to the needs of workers and their families today and into the future. Accordingly, the Social Security Board has recently commissioned a comprehensive revision of the Social Security Act and Regulations. Updated legislation, and a new ICT system which is to be commissioned by mid-2021, will bring significant improvements to the administration of the Social Security System to the benefit of the entire population of Anguilla. These improvements would further ensure a strong, sustainable System, building on the current asset base of $371 million which allows us to state "40 years after the Act - We're secure! That's a fact!"
Looking ahead - In just a few weeks, we will enter the System's 40th year of operations, and doubtless you will be hearing much more about that milestone achievement.
Finally, as Director, I am painfully aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the lives of us all in Anguilla. I pray to Almighty God that we will remain safe and secure, and that we will beat COVID and return to normalcy soon. Please have a safe and enjoyable Social Security Week 2020! Thank you.