Legislators are seeking to set up a commission that will oversee how elderly people are treated in Cayman.
Member of the Legislative Assembly Lucille Seymour asked that a commission be established to help elderly people find work after the normal retirement age of 60.
Her motion stated that the commission’s initial remit should include a scientific socio-economic study of the elderly, resulting in an action plan and legislation that would ‘bring hope for the future of seniors in the Cayman Islands and give them opportunities to live with dignity and not fall through the safety net into abject poverty and humiliation.’
Ms. Seymour’s motion also called for the government to consider revisiting the retirement age with a view to deciding that retirees who are trainable and have special expertise are allowed to remain in the workforce in the private and public sector.
She said many retired people were willing and able to work long beyond retirement age, but could not find work, and queried why work permits were being issued for jobs such as cashiers at supermarkets that could be done by older local people.
While the government gives ex-gratia payments to veterans and retired seamen, other elderly people who ‘did not put anything away for a rainy day’ were finding themselves in need, she said in her motion.
She commended the Social Services efforts to help the elderly, but said more needs to be done within the community and the private sector to make elderly citizens feel useful and wanted.
‘The country needs to understand that when someone reaches the age of 65, life does not stop. Some of our men get married at 60 and start having a family,’ she said.
‘How are they going to look after their offspring? There has to be some support system in this country to ensure they don’t fall through the net.’
The poverty of some of the elderly in Cayman is often unseen because many are too proud to ask for, and do not, want handouts, she said.
‘They are the pioneers, they are heroes; it’s an insult to give them handouts. They feel they are the forgotten generation,’ she said.
The call for an elderly commission comes following the findings of a National Assessment of Living Conditions report released last year in which many of the elderly people who responded to the survey said they felt a sense of worthlessness and helplessness.
Ms. Seymour, in her speech to the LA on Thursday, urged the government to ensure that Caymanians are hired for civil service jobs, rather than foreigners, so that pension money stays in the country and that earnings are not sent overseas in remittances.
While she did not elaborate on the exact form the commission would take, saying the terms of reference could be drawn up later by the Ministry of Health and Human Services, Ms Seymour said the commission would essentially be an advocate for the elderly.
She said it could help them find jobs, get discounts and offer other assistance.
‘You may see a couple of old George Towners with grey hair at the post office, but generally you don’t see [elderly people around]. This is what the commission would do, it will ensure that people see them, and they see people,’ she said.
Her fellow MLA Alfonso Wright, who seconded the motion, said the time was right for the government to take more proactive action in addressing the issues surrounding the elderly.
‘In the years to come, our generation could well become a burden on the governments of the future. It is incumbent upon all of use to understand and acknowledge and accept that we have a problem and begin to do something about it.’
Since the advent of mandatory pension and health insurance payments are relatively new, many elderly are finding themselves with not enough savings or pensions to see them through and need a safety net to survive, the LA was told.
MLA for Cayman Brac, Moses Kirkconnell, said the damage Hurricane Paloma caused the Brac highlighted the plight of the elderly on that Island, especially those who had built and owned their own homes after years of hard work, who did not have mortgages, and thus did not have insurance.
Mr. Kirkconnell also urged people to embrace the idea of elderly ambassadors who could regale tourists with their life experiences and tales of yesteryear.