Health ministry to assess living conditions

The Ministry of Health and Human Services is launching a national survey to gauge the state of living conditions in Cayman and better focus resources on those most needing assistance.

Diane Montoya, chief officer at the ministry, is the chairperson of the National Assessment Team, which will oversee the National Assessment of Living Conditions project.

‘One of the ministry’s focuses is policy development and legislation. As a country, we have financial development but we are not as good with social development.

‘We were amazed at the amount of money being spent on social programmes, while we weren’t necessarily sure if we were targeting the right programmes,’ she said.

Mrs. Montoya outlined the objectives of the NALC.

‘They are to assess the current conditions affecting the welfare of people; identify policies, strategies, action programmes and projects; and enhance social development and improve the overall quality of life in the Cayman Islands,’ she said.

The ministry has been working on setting up the survey since last year when a team from the United Nations Development Programme came to Cayman for discussions.

‘We identified a need for data to guide our social programmes.

‘The ministry provides financial assistance, but is it enough and going to the right people?

‘We needed a study to determine the poverty line and the numbers of people living below the poverty line,’ she said.

This need led to the involvement of the Caribbean Development Bank.

During a visit at the end of last year by the president of the CDB, Minister for Health Anthony Eden brought up the idea of a survey, which the bank had helped facilitate in other countries. He was receptive to the idea.

‘(The president) came down with the genuine desire to provide assistance after Ivan,’ explained Samuel Rose, policy analyst in the Cabinet Office, and now also a coordinator for NALC.

In February the division chief of the CDB’s project financing division led a team to Cayman to discuss the idea further. Mr. Rose and others gave the visitors a tour of the island.

‘We took them out for a drive to give them a picture of the other side of life besides the high rises and Seven Mile Beach. They left with an understanding of the disparity here,’ he said.

A survey of this kind is not new to the Caribbean.

‘The CDB do this in every Caribbean country and we’re the last place to do it,’ Mr. Rose said.

In February, the CDB offered technical assistance and financial support for the project.

Mrs. Montoya explained that there is a lack of understanding about living conditions in Cayman.

‘There’s this perception that such a study is not necessary for the Cayman Islands due to the high standard of living, but the amount of funds the government gives out tells us there is a substantial amount of poverty,’ she said.

Social changes

Mrs. Montoya also pointed to social changes in Cayman as necessitating a survey of this kind.

‘Traditionally, Caymanians have been very resourceful. They have a piece of land, they grow things, they get some help from the church. But, due to the increasing cost of living, the traditional avenues aren’t there.

‘In addition, more and more people when they reach 60 are applying for assistance whether they need it or not. There is a sense of entitlement,’ she said.

Mrs. Montoya referred to the maintenance law which requires children to take care of their parents.

‘It’s something to do with the culture of this country because we’ve always taken care of the elderly.

‘But the sad part is that children are now leaving the care of the elderly to the government. We are trying to reverse the trend,’ she said.

Public campaign

A public education campaign for personal responsibility will coincide with the assessment, Mrs. Montoya added, that will emphasise that government is giving a hand up not a hand out.

The National Assessment Team will coordinate the study and recommend programmes and strategies to reduce poverty, Mrs. Montoya explained.

The 15-member team includes representatives from the departments of Children and Family Services, Employment Relations, Education, and Public Health as well as such non-governmental organisations as the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, the Cayman Ministers Association and the Commonwealth Youth Club. In addition, the team will include a volunteer member of the public.

‘This project has to be owned by the people of the Cayman Islands. While we will get help from the technical team, we will have our own national assessment team.

‘Our people will be on the ground involved in this project. We are coming to grips with getting a true picture of living conditions in this country. This is not an outside consultant doing this. We are excited by this and committed to it,’ Mrs. Montoya said.

The actual assessment will begin in August and the collection and analysis of data will require six to nine months.

‘We decided we wanted our assessment to be comprehensive. Not only Caymanians but all the people living in this country will be included,’ she explained.

Mr. Rose explained that the uses of the study will be comprehensive as well.

‘It has the potential to be an excellent tool to provide key data for other organisations such as the Economics and Statistics Office and the Department of Children and Family Services. It will help everyone tackle social welfare issues,’ he said.

Mrs. Montoya expects the report to be sent to Cabinet by June 2007.

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