Any way you look at it, demand for social services in Cayman is increasing.
And those who provide the services believe there’s a different type of person applying for that assistance.
‘We are seeing working people who are not earning sufficient to meet their basic needs,’ said Department of Children and Family Services Director Deanna Look Loy.
Government was forced to plug nearly half a million more dollars into the budget this year for poor relief payments and poor relief vouchers, and close to another $500,000 to cover additional medical care costs for certain disadvantaged elderly or disabled people.
But Mrs. Look Loy told the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee last week that the sheer number of those requesting services is perhaps the most telling fact.
From 1 July 2006 through 31 March 2007, Mrs. Look Loy said social services provided assistance for 1,372 people through vouchers.
In the same period from July 2007 to March 2008, that number was 2,516; an 83 per cent increase.
Mrs. Look Loy said the number of families seeking assistance over the same period had gone up by about 44 per cent.
Both Mrs. Look Loy and Health Minister Anthony Eden said it was difficult to determine a precise reason for the increased social services applications.
Unemployment has been forecast to rise in the Cayman Islands over the next two years, reaching as high as a projected 4.5 percent in 2009. Also, the weakening US dollar, to which the Cayman Islands dollar is tied, may be sapping customers’ purchasing power.
Lawmakers also raised the issue of the Cayman Islands’ rapid population growth over the past several years, and whether there were simply more people applying for aide than government had seen in the past.
George Town MLA Lucille Seymour asked Mrs. Look Loy whether social services had ‘any strange persons applying now for indigent assistance.’
‘Wouldn’t you agree that over the years we have increased our Caymanian capacity, our Caymanian population?’ Ms Seymour asked. ‘And also we have increased out population perhaps at the lower level?’
‘So it’s safe to say that we would get more indigent people applying for assistance.’
Mrs. Look Loy agreed that some permanent residents or newly granted Caymanian status holders’ names had come up. However, she said the vast majority of those applying for assistance were born Caymanians.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush took issue with Ms Seymour’s line of questioning.
‘Every time that we have to talk about social development, there a finger pointed to foreign people,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘We can’t sit here all the time and want to make out that somehow these strange people (are) the cause of our expenditure or the cause of our social problems.’
‘They are not the entire problem. The sooner we recognise that, the sooner we can do something about it.’
Ms Seymour said Mr. Bush had misinterpreted what she said, and denied that she was asking about foreigners burdening the social services safety net.
‘I am talking about Caymanians we have ignored,’ she said. ‘I am disappointed in you.’
‘You should’ve said that, you know you didn’t mean that,’ Mr. Bush replied.