Faced with an ageing population while the middle class sector continues to decline, Minister of Social Development, Zane DeSilva stated outright, once again, that there’s no way Bermuda can sustain the $1-million-a-week price tag attached to the cost of financial assistance in Bermuda.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the Minister said the current cost “must be reduced”.

“When we’re spending $1 million a week on financial assistance, we can’t do it fast enough,” said Minister DeSilva, who announced the new 12-member Financial Assistance Reform Group, assigned to get it done by “aggressively” reforming the current programme.

The new group is set to hold their first meeting today, “to produce those recommendations for Cabinet” as soon as possible.

The group members include the former Director of Financial Assistance, Dianna Taylor, Progressive Labour Party (PLP) MP  and a former Minister of Social Development, Michael Weeks, BPSU President and PLP Senator Jason Hayward, Salvation Army Family Services Manager Lynn Gordon, PLP MP Tinee Furbert, One Bermuda Alliance MP Susan Jackson, and Permanent Secretary Wayne Carey, who will serve as Chairman.

Minister DeSilva was confident this “very good cross-section of people… will lend their views in a very positive way”.

He noted that the number of people on financial assistance has nearly doubled in the last six years.

“The trends of increasing numbers of clients and the high cost of financial assistance are not sustainable and must be reduced,” he said.

“Bermuda has an ageing population and the Financial Assistance Reform Group shall also assess the extent to which the ageing population could result in increasing numbers of seniors on financial assistance, and to make recommendation going forward.”

According to the latest statistics, excluding the Child Day Care Programme, the total number of financial assistance recipients in May of this yar, was 2,560 in May 2017. That’s up substantially from the 1,332 recipients in October 2011.

“The cost of administering the Financial Assistance Programme has also increased significantly over the years,” said Mr DeSilva. “The total monthly payout for financial assistance [excluding child day care allowance awards] rose from approximately $25 million in October 2011 to just over $4 million in October 2017.”

As noted in the 2017 Throne Speech, he said reform “to reduce possible abuse, reduce dependency, and assist those out of work – to get work” is imminent. The team includes:

  • Wayne Carey (Chairperson)
  • Senator Jason Hayward, JP
  • Tinee Furbert, MP
  • Michael Weeks, MP
  • Wendall Brown
  • Wentworth Christopher
  • Tina Nash
  • Lynn Gordon
  • Dianna Taylor
  • Komlah Foggo-Wilson
  • Judy Lowe-Teart

The Minister noted: “The Financial Assistance Reform Group shall assess the effectiveness of the Financial Assistance Programme in achieving its objectives, with particular emphasis on areas where legislative and/or policy reform may be required to improve service delivery.”

Consultation with representatives of the Ministry of Health will also take place moving forward, and the group will produce a summary report of its conclusions and recommendations for submission to the Minister as soon as possible, “to enable appropriate time for Cabinet to approve such reforms and time for legislative drafting”.

  • Photo Courtesy of DCI