Campaigner backs plan for overhaul of Financial Assistance programme

A charity set up to support at risk families and children said yesterday promised changes to the Financial Assistance system were long overdue.

Gina Spence, founder of Gina Spence Productions, said: “Something is terribly wrong with a system when people find themselves on Financial Assistance for 10 or 20 years.”

Ms Spence was speaking after John Rankin, the Governor announced an overhaul of the benefits system in yesterday’s Throne Speech.

Mr Rankin, who delivered the speech on behalf of the Government, said that the changes would help put recipients on a pathway to employment and allow them to save money and build assets.

The Government also wants to allow recipients to retain 50 per cent of child support to defray child-related expenses and would also let them to receive other assistance up to $2,500 for household expenses, without penalty.

Ms Spence said: “I applaud them for revising and looking at how people can be empowered instead of being kept in a holding pattern.

“There is no accountability at present. If the government is saying they are going to really support people in finding employment I believe that is definitely more of an empowerment policy. Some have been on Financial Assistance for years.

“In places like UK you have a window and time frame where you get help and support and if you don’t apply yourself then your time is up.

“It challenges you to really apply yourself. Accountability makes a big difference.”

Mr Rankin said in the speech: “The precarious position of businesses and the potential for additional economic contraction have demonstrated a clear need to provide unemployment insurance and strengthen the ability of employers to meet their statutory obligations in the event of redundancy of employees.”

Ms Spence added: “If you don’t have a job, you don’t have insurance as it is tied into employment and that cost is astronomical.”

She said she was encouraged by policies promoted by the Progressive Labour Party to ensure Bermudians could get back to work.

Ms Spence added: “I imagine Workforce Development teams will work together more cohesively. Government putting a cap on certain job environments so that Bermudians can work in those jobs – if all of those things work together there will be more opportunities for Bermudians to be employed.

“It will take the will of government and people to work together so it benefits all.”

Desmond Crockwell, an anti-violence campaigner, community worker and founding member of political party the Free Democratic Movement, warned the island’s cost of living had to be reduced.

Mr Crockwell said: “It is a sticky situation because the cost of living is high. You can find a low-paying job, but you will still need financial assistance in some way.

“The cost of living has to come down. Is it practical? The number of people on Financial Assistance is growing, it has to be sustainable. Money has to be pulled from another budget for it to work, or money has to be curtailed.

“The government is trying – they closed certain job categories to foreign workers which is a good step. How feasible is it, we are yet to see.”

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