By Lindsey Turnbull
In line with an ever-growing general population, some of the most vulnerable members of society are also increasing in numbers, specifically, the elderly. In 1999 the population was 39,020 with 2,194 or 5.62 per cent of the population over 65. The percentage of the population who are elderly has barely changed in the last few decades, with just small changes up and down. There was an estimated population of 65,813 as at the end of 2018, with 4,946 people over 65 (7.5 per cent); but while the numbers of elderly per population might not have changed a great deal, the fact that the population has grown so quickly means that a large number of people, most of whom are Caymanians (4,435 as at 2018), may now be in need of extra care, medical assistance and financial help.
To help ease the financial struggle many elderly people face once they can no longer work, Government announced a raft of measures to reduce costs for Cayman’s elderly population, with the Premier Alden McLaughlin advising that government was introducing a package of concessions designed to reduce the costs falling on older persons late last year.
“Across government, some 14 fees or duties will be significantly reduced or waived for persons over 65,” he advised in his Budget address to the House.
This package included reductions in vehicle licensing fees, duty reductions for mobility scooters and wheelchairs and reduced post office box rental fees. The Premier also announced that work permit fees for caregivers of older persons would be reduced and they would also reduce import duties for older persons coming through the airport.
“The impact of the changes will obviously vary from individual to individual but the concessions generally focus on those in greatest need,” he said. “We calculate that the revenue foregone by government will total approximately $830,000.”
The Premier also said that income payments for seafarers, veterans, those in need of social assistance and long serving civil service pensioners would also be increased, further to an increase for this demographic in the previous Budget.
“…this budget has again provided for more support for these groups of people and that from the 1st of January, 2020, they will see their monthly income rise by another $100 per month to $850,” he advised, adding that the Government intended to go further and introduce an extra $100 per month from January 2021, lifting the monthly payment to $950.
“This means that under this Government, there will have been an increase of at least 73 per cent in the income of over 2,000 of Cayman’s most vulnerable and hard-pressed households,” he advised.
Over the past few years, Cayman appears to be gearing up to take more care and make more focus on its elderly population. October has been assigned as Older Persons Month, bringing the elderly into the forefront, with events taking place during that month integrating young people with the elderly, in particular.
The private sector, however, seems to be relatively slow in specifically working towards aiding Cayman’s elderly population. One supermarket, Hurley’s, stepped up to the mark, with their 10 per cent discount on Thursdays for all shoppers over 65.
“It started a few years ago when we offered the discount just throughout the month of October, when that month was designated Older Persons Month,” Scott Kristal, Hurley’s Marketing Manager advised. “I started talking with my bosses to see if we could introduce this one day a week year-round, to help out elderly people, particularly those on a fixed income, as every little helps.”
One business woman in her late sixties commended some initiatives but felt more could be done.
“There are some measures which are really working, parking at the hospital designated for seniors is a good one, but they need senior parking at the Government Admin Building, as well as behind the Public Library and at the Courthouse would be good,” she said.
She went on to say she felt that programmes which get seniors involved in going out and doing things are what was really needed.
“One of the biggest problems seniors face is loneliness. The John Gray Memorial Church in West Bay has an exemplary programme for seniors, enhanced by the fact they have a bus. My 92-year old mother has an active social life thanks to this,” she advised, adding that she felt what was really needed by Government was for them to get out and talk to the elderly about practical things which could be done to ease their lives.