(CNS): Politicians wrestled with the very real problem of poverty in Cayman during a debate in the Legislative Assembly Thursday brought by the opposition leader. McKeeva Bush called on government to establish an emergency fund to prevent social deprivation and help the worst cases in the community where people have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay their mortgages. Bush said he knew of constituents who were losing their homes after years of payments for the want of a few thousand dollars — as little as $3,000 in at least one case.
Presenting a private member’s motion to the Legislative Assembly to establish an emergency fund to support those who faced the loss of their home for want of a few thousand dollars through no fault of their own, Bush said the increase in the numbers of homeless people, the incidences of people living on porches, in the bush or in their cars did not speak well for Cayman.
Many people were struggling as hardship has set in, he warned, pointing to job loss as one of the main causes of people getting into dire situations because they can no longer meet their bills. Worried about predictions of more than 100 foreclosures this year, he said it was wrong that people were having the homes they had paid on for many years taken by the bank when all they needed was a few thousand dollars. He cited one case where the bank still took a woman’s home on the day she finally got a new job.
Bush said he appreciated the tightrope of balancing social needs and business but he said the commercial community cannot be allowed to make the money while the people “suffer and suffer”, and government had to adopt policies that would control the excesses of the free market.
“Large corporations must be monitored to ensure that they don’t exploit people, including homeowners,” he told MLAs.
He noted the long-term implications when people’s homes were repossessed and that, in the end, government and the business community would pay. Once people lost their homes they were very unlikely to get another chance to own one again, meaning government would see a massive increase in social service requirements and that would lead to an increase in fees levied on the financial services.
Bush said if members of the business community did not want to see more future taxes, they needed to help customers stay in their own homes and not repossess them so quickly. He said the private sector is always quick to point out where government should cut spending but they fail to appreciate that the corporate decisions they make have a negative impact on the people, and those social impacts then cost government.
Government has budgeted CI$1.6 million to pay rent for people in need this year and if the foreclosures continue that will increase. “Banks have a crucial role to play,” Bush maintained.
He acknowledged that some people live beyond their means but said the increase in the social deprivation was down to the economic fallout and local unemployment, so government must intervene with an emergency plan.
Pointing to the very real problems of poverty, he said the Needs Assessment Unit had its hands full and there were still too many children going to school hungry on a daily basis. He said the government was not getting to grips with the situation and needed a coordinated effort to reach the worst cases and the most vulnerable.
Community Affairs Minister Osbourne Bodden offered sympathy for Bush’s motion but said government was dealing with the issues in the current budget and it could not just “grab” the extra millions that the opposition leader said were required.
Expecting to have the motion rejected, the West Bay veteran said the time had passed for excuses about not doing something. He said he was well aware of what government was doing but he was talking about the most dire of situations and the need to find the money.
Bush said government had a significant surplus that could fund an emergency programme. With 6,000 people being helped by the NAU, which has just seven staff, he said that alone showed how inadequate and pathetic things are on social front, as he urged government to develop “some humanity in your hearts” and help save homes.