Helping hands
 vs. handouts

The head of the Department of Children and Family Services has sought to clarify exactly how many people in the Cayman Islands are receiving direct financial assistance from government.

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.


  1. What do the individuals on relief give back for the money they receive. It’s high time that Caymanians realize that domestic and restaurant jobs are not above them. Take pride in your island and your country. Community service is also not above them. The island needs hands to make this island an example for all. There isn’t the budget for those to take and not give back something. Enough is enough.

  2. While I’m not saying there are young people who might not want jobs. There are young and old people who are qualified for jobs that are being denied jobs in their own country. There are people who are working very hard on jobs that are part time working in rest. Where they do not receive medical insurance. Medical insurance broke up into parts where they no longer offer eyeglasses and dental. While at the same time increased their premiums. They also only offer dental and eyeglasses in group insurance, why? Did the population decrease?
    When we work on the jobs offered that we used to work before the recession the wages were double what they offer now, why?
    If the companies are not making money they should close. Thereby the SUPPLY will go down and the DEMAND will go up. Then wages will follow or minimum wages need to be placed as law.
    If these companies who owe a mere 5% of pension back to the people why not close them down until they pay? These greedy people have to be stopped.

  3. If we are to seek value for money with all government expenditures, policy should dictate that the able bodied seeking Social services relief have a way to pay back.
    There is already process in place where the courts assign individuals to community service, be it rehabilitative punishment, hopefully it is also productive. If you are able to work, when you get you social aid you are also issued a works hours invoice and a person to contact to work off the hours. This person will have a huge list of governments need to do where individual can select from to payback the invoiced hours.. I sure would not want a hand out from anyone.. Like unemployment insurance, if you turn down or quit a job, don’t expect a cheque.

  4. David Miller,

    Half your post deals with declining availability of dental and eyeglass insurance. Is that really what we should be focusing on? As far as I’m aware employers are legally required to provide medical insurance. Same goes for pensions, so why if you claim many employers aren’t following the law would a minimum wage be effective?

    And did you really state the answer to unemployment and low wages is for a lot of business to close because it will decrease supply? I’m no nobel prize winner, but it doesn’t take much to see that doesn’t make any sense. The product in question is labor – closing businesses reduces the demand for labor, while the supply (Caymanian workforce) remains the same, hence wages or labor prices decrease.

  5. I disagree because opening a business is a privilege . If you are not following laws then a business should close. There are aprox. 300 rest. in Cayman . We don’t need 300 , we could have 200 properly run businesses .If they are run right The 200 will need more staff. In any businesses it will work the same way.
    Take for instance what we are dealing with now. Businesses are dropping in demand . So they make staff take lower salaries or hire from other countries. How is that helping businesses? Cost of living is going up now down. Simply greedy businesses have caused their own demise. Its called the law of diminishing return.
    If you work for any company part time the laborer has to provide for their own medical insurance. They will pay for pension (5%).
    We are doing the same in the USA.

  6. Minimum wages are found in most western first world countries. Why shouldn’t it be here? It would help abused laborers who have no choice when looking for mostly blue-collar work. How can any business justify offering 5-8 per hour jobs?? Can you work for 8 per hour with no gratis. and pay half of your bills? So one should live in squalor to justify they have a job? Really?? Lets all come to the table and eat of the fruits of our homeland, it wasn’t this bad 15 years ago and cost of living was a lot cheaper.

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