Needs Assessment Unit challenged by influx of elderly

An aging population and rising rental costs have been blamed for the growing cost of welfare in the Cayman Islands.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday, Tamara Hurlston, director of the Needs Assessment Unit, said the department was dealing with an ever-increasing demand for its services.

She acknowledged that private sector pensions were often insufficient to sustain living and healthcare costs of Cayman’s elderly through retirement.

“We have an aging population and a lot of our elderly are coming in for healthcare and other services,” she said.

Elderly people whose savings have run out or are insufficient are typically given a $750-a-month “poor relief” payment.

“That has become more of a demand over the years because elderly persons are finding it hard to sustain themselves on the minimal pension they are receiving,” Ms. Hurlston said.

“We have seen an influx of elderly persons coming in to the office.”

Ms. Hurlston acknowledged the NAU was also struggling to fund rent for people who could not afford housing.

She said rental costs had gone up and it was increasingly difficult for clients to find anywhere within the NAU’s $1,200 maximum monthly budget. She added that many landlords were often reluctant to rent to NAU clients for a variety of reasons, ranging from previous NAU tenants destroying property to the fact that the governmental unit does not pay deposits.

The NAU has used hotels to house people on a temporary basis in the past. Though a new direct-debit system has been introduced to make payments swifter and easier to landlords, Ms. Hurlston acknowledged payment issues continued. She predicted the struggle to find suitable, affordable homes for a growing number of clients would continue.

“I don’t think the way we are doing it now is going to be sustainable,” she said.

“I can say from now, we will be back for additional funding for NAU services because I foresee, as we did last year, we will run out of funds.”

She said a joint strategy with the National Housing Trust may be needed to find a longer-term solution for those who could not afford housing.

Ms. Hurlston was also quizzed about the rising costs of providing healthcare to the uninsured. Government’s budget for indigent healthcare costs rose from just over $10 million to more than $25 million last year, a state of affairs which opposition legislator Chris Saunders described as unsustainable.

Ms. Hurlston said the NAU was responsible only for assessment of eligibility for the payments. Responsibility for payments fell within the remit of the Ministry of Health. She said 1,080 people had been assessed for indigent healthcare in the past three years.

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