The number of Caymanian families receiving help with food and rent payments from government rose sharply in 2017, according to the government’s latest Compendium of Statistics.
The Needs Assessment Unit paid rent for 573 families last year, compared with 392 the year before. The number of people receiving food vouchers was also up, from 732 to 1,109 in the same time period.
Overall, the unit provided assistance to more than 1,000 families across a range of programs, including rent, food, electricity, water bills and burial expenses, in 2,049 instances last year – up 13 percent.
The longer-term trend shows fluctuation in most of those categories, though the number of people receiving rental assistance had remained stable until last year when it spiked sharply.
The rising cost of living on the island – in particular increased rent prices in the private sector – have been blamed for the trend.
The Compass reported earlier this year that the Needs Assessment Unit was increasingly forced to house homeless families in hotels as it struggled to find affordable accommodation within its budget for its clients. The NAU offers between $800 and $1,200 for monthly rent, including bills, depending on the size of the family.
The charity Acts of Random Kindness has called for those totals to be increased to keep up with the market prices and prevent the NAU from having to spend thousands of dollars on hotel rooms.
Michael Myles, a former social worker and at-risk youth officer and now a director of the Youth Anti-Crime Trust, said wages had remained stagnant while rents had gone up.
“It is hard to live in Cayman if you don’t earn good money. A lot of people are working full time and still have to go to NAU for assistance.”
He said a variety of interlinked social and economic issues were driving an increased reliance on welfare.
He added, “The figures don’t surprise me. The prison is full so you have more men incarcerated that, one way or another, were the breadwinners in their families. You have an incredible amount of elderly people without pensions, you have a lot of people that are mentally ill and not getting treatment. There is a generation of Caymanians that have been left behind in this economic climate.”
He said a 2015 Auditor General’s report had highlighted serious systemic problems with the way welfare was handled in Cayman and pointed to numerous potential solutions. But, he said, not enough of its recommendations have been followed up.
“They still don’t have one program that helps people get off welfare,” Mr. Myles said. “Where is the investment in training people that everybody ran on in the last election? The only program I see being pushed is the National Community Enhancement that gives people a week’s work. That’s nice but it is not a long-term solution.”
Government has launched the Ready2Work program, which helps get people into jobs, and is currently in the process of launching the Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC) agency, which will be responsible for workforce, residency and labor-related issues.
There is no direct link between those programs and welfare, however.
A $180,000 KPMG report published last year, in the aftermath of the Auditor General’s report, recommended doing away with Cayman’s variety of programs and making monthly payments to all welfare recipients derived from a “standard rate” based on the cost of food, shelter and other basic needs. Those recommendations have yet to be implemented.