Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Social Development and Sports, The Hon. Z. J. De Silva, JP, MP
Mr. Speaker, I rise this morning to inform my Honourable colleagues about the establishment of a Financial Assistance Reform Group to undertake a review of the Financial Assistance Programme.
Mr. Speaker, The Financial Assistance Programme has been in existence for many years. The Programme evolved from the old Parish Assistance Act of 1968, and was formerly administered under the Parish Vestry and Parish Council System. From its inception, the purpose of the Financial Assistance Programme was (and still is) to ensure that all Bermudians have the financial and social means to maximize their potential as viable members of our society.
Mr. Speaker, The Financial Assistance Programme is currently underpinned by four key pieces of legislation, namely the Financial Assistance Act 2001, the Financial Assistance Regulations 2004, the Child Day Care Allowance Act 2008 and the Child Day Care Allowance Regulations 2008. This gives the Financial Assistance Programme a strong legislative framework which enables the Department of Financial Assistance carry out its mandate of ensuring that all Bermudians have the financial and social means to gain, regain and maintain a minimum standard of living.
Mr. Speaker, The Department of Financial Assistance is the public authority which is responsible for assessing the financial needs of Bermudians who apply for financial assistance, and makes awards to eligible and qualified persons based on criteria as outlined in the financial assistance legislation.
Mr. Speaker, In recent years, the Department has seen a sharp increase in number and complexity of client case loads. For example, the most recent statistics on financial assistance show that the total number of persons in receipt of financial assistance (excluding the child day care allowance programme) was 2,560 in May 2017. By comparison, the total number of financial assistance clients was 1,332 in October 2011. The total number of persons receiving financial assistance has nearly doubled in the past 6 years.
Mr. Speaker, The cost of administering the Financial Assistance Programme has also increased significantly over the years. The total monthly payout for financial assistance (excluding child day care allowance awards) rose from approximately $2.5M in October 2011 to just over $4.0M in October 2017.
Mr. Speaker, The trends of increasing numbers of clients and high cost of financial assistance are not sustainable and must be reduced.
Mr. Speaker, It was with this objective in mind that Government committed, in the September 2017 Speech from the Throne, to review the Financial Assistance Programme, and to reform the Programme to “reduce abuse, discourage dependency, and ensure that work pays”.
Mr. Speaker, In order to achieve the Throne Speech objective, I am pleased to announce the establishment of a Financial Assistance Reform Group, consisting for the following persons:
Wayne Carey (Chairperson)
Senator Jason Hayward, JP
Tinee Furbert, MP
Michael Weeks, MP
Susan Jackson, MP
Mr. Speaker, The purpose of the Financial Assistance Working Group is to review the Financial Assistance Programme and make recommendations for financial assistance reform.
In particular Mr. Speaker, the Financial Assistance Reform Group will assess the effectiveness of the Financial Assistance Programme with particular emphasis on areas where legislative and/or policy reform may be required to improve service delivery.
Further Mr. Speaker, The Financial Assistance Reform Group will examine options for reducing the number of persons who are dependent on financial assistance and for reducing the overall cost of the Financial Assistance Programme. In doing so, the Financial Assistance Reform Group will assess the level of abuse of the financial assistance system, and recommend ways to reduce such abuse.
Mr. Speaker, Bermuda has an ageing population. Therefore, the Financial Assistance Reform Group will also spend a part of its time assessing the extent to which the ageing population may result in increasing numbers of seniors on financial assistance, and make recommendations going forward. This aspect will, of course, require consultation with the Ministry of Health, among others.
Mr. Speaker, It will be important for the Financial Assistance Reform Group to identify possible areas for legislative reform as early as possible and make recommendations to the Minister of Social Development and Sports to enable appropriate time for Cabinet to approve such legislative reforms and also allow sufficient time for legislative drafting.
Mr. Speaker, The Financial Assistance Reform Group will be required to prepare a summary report of its conclusions and recommendations for submission to the Minister of Social Development and Sports as soon as possible.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.