According to figures provided by Director Alicia “Jen” Dixon, approximately 1,795 households received some form of “temporary poor relief” and 971 households received monthly “permanent poor relief” during the last budget year.
That means 2,766 Caymanian households received financial aid from Ms Dixon’s department.
In an attempt to clarify and quantify matters, we examined a decade’s worth of budget documents for two programs, “poor relief payments” (long-term aid to the elderly and disabled) and “poor relief vouchers” (short- and medium-term aid to indigents).
For the 2004/05 budget year, 859 households received $4.5 million in “long-term” aid. Last year, 971 households received $6 million. That’s a 13 percent increase in recipients but a 33 percent increase in payments.
For the 2004/05 budget year, 350 households received less than $600,000 in short- and medium-term vouchers. Last year, 1,299 households received $1.5 million.
Troublingly, that’s a 271 percent increase in recipients and a 150 percent increase in payments.
Those numbers describe the trees, but the forest offers a more enlightening view. The real question, of course, is are we slowly, but inexorably, moving toward a welfare state?
This year, government plans to spend $30 million to finance social service programs – including a basket full of benefits such as poverty relief, rent subsides, payments to seamen, community assistance and counseling – aimed at the most vulnerable members of our society. The $30 million for social services is roughly equivalent to this year’s budget for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
That $30 million expenditure does not include government’s spending on health care, which consumes one-fifth (about $110 million) of the $549 million budget, nor does it include funds for scholarships and grants, or other money spent at the ministers’ discretion.
Despite these considerable outlays, virtually every politician will tell you that constituents constantly approach them with requests for further assistance, which many of them routinely provide out of their own pockets.
Let us be clear: A country with the resources of Cayman should adequately, even generously, look after the truly needy – the infirm, the incapacitated, the elderly, and those who cannot make their own way. Indeed, in addition to government, many churches, businesses, volunteer organizations, and, of course, generous individuals privately (and often quietly) look after the needy.
However, we are extremely uncomfortable with Premier Alden McLaughlin’s observation at a recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon that while there are an estimated 1,900 unemployed Caymanians, 1,500 so-called “TLEPers” are about to leave the island. Mr. McLaughlin went on: “Over 900 [of the TLEPers hold] jobs as domestics, gardeners or caregivers . . . which Caymanians have generally expressed little interest in filling.”
We hope that Mr. McLaughlin’s statement was not as bleak, or damning, as it sounded, but as a country, we must never make it easier to receive government assistance than it is to take an honest job readily available in the marketplace. Such a path that might appear attractive to an individual in the short-run – but in the long-run, it leads nowhere.