The Hon Roy McTaggart Calls on The Government to Increase The $950 Ex-gratia Stipend To $1,500 Monthly

June 26, 2023by Support

June 26, 2023


My Fellow Caymanians and Residents:

One of the hallmarks of a fair and inclusive society is how those in need are supported. Our Islands have a proud tradition of looking after each other. We care for each other in families and support each other in the neighbourhoods and communities in which we live.

We have also long recognised that sometimes the government needs to step in to help those who need extra help.

Particularly, we have all acknowledged that there are some in our community to whom a particular debt is owed. That applies to the older seafarers who, in many ways, are the bedrock of our nation and the foundation upon which our subsequent prosperity has been built. It also applies to our veterans, those who volunteered to defend the freedoms and liberties that we hold dear. And it applies, too, to the wives of our seafarers and veterans who played a valuable role on the home front in nation-building.

That is why seafarers and veterans and their spouses have always held a special place in our hearts and why for many years, they have been entitled to a monthly ex-gratia stipend as an acknowledgement of their service and sacrifice. But more importantly, the stipend acknowledged that many seafarers and veterans are retired with very little retirement funds to draw from to help during their old age.

In April, in responding to the Government’s Strategic Policy Statement, I again reminded the Premier that inflation hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.  As costs rise due to inflation, so must Government support.  I asked the Government to increase the assistance given to those receiving the $950 ex-gratia stipend to $1,500 monthly.  For most recipients, this is their only income, and it has been eroded greatly.  This increase should be included in the next budget.

Whilst the inflation rate may be declining, this only means that costs are rising slower than previously.  It is unlikely that the prices of everyday goods and services, including food and housing, will return to where they were in 2020.

The last Progressives administration recognised that the actual value of the stipend paid to seafarers and veterans had been allowed to dwindle over the years, and we set out to restore its value. So, over the last parliamentary term, we raised the stipend by 90% from $500 to $950 per month.

We also recognised that a small number of long-serving civil service pensioners who received meagre pensions were equally deserving of our thanks and support.  These pensions were less than that paid to assist those in need of Government financial assistance. We, therefore, guaranteed that their pension income would be no less than the monthly stipend paid to seafarers and veterans and for what is termed ‘poor relief’.

As we know, over the last 18 months, we have all experienced skyrocketing inflation. We have seen prices spiral upward in grocery stores and at gas pumps. Our household bills, including utility bills, have been increasing at the same time.

The result has been a cost-of-living crisis. Families have been facing those skyrocketing bills without seeing equivalent rises in their pay. Living standards have fallen, and the last 18 months have been difficult for many hard-pressed Caymanian families.

This is especially true for those on fixed incomes, like the $950 monthly stipend we pay seafarers and veterans. The value of the increases in the stipend granted by the last Progressive government has been whittled away once again by the dramatic rise in the rate of inflation.

We must now ensure we look after our seafarers, veterans, and civil service pensioners again.  They deserve a fair deal. And similarly, we also need to look after those most vulnerable and needing government assistance.

That is why my colleagues and I in the Progressives again call on the Premier and his PACT Government to increase the monthly stipend paid to seafarers, veterans, and civil servant pensioners on small pensions, to $1500 per month.  We believe that this reflects the level of support needed, and it also recognises the debt of gratitude we owe for their service.

At a time when this government has been boasting about record levels of government income, it is surely time to utilise that income to make sure that, as a society, we are looking out for those most in need and recognising the value of their service.

The government is currently going through internal discussions about its budget priorities. This increase in the monthly ex-gratia stipend must be a priority, and I urge the Premier and his PACT colleagues to find the resources necessary to deliver the increase I am calling for in the next budget.

Now is the time to deliver a fair deal.  Let’s use the opportunity of the forthcoming budget to raise the monthly stipend to $1500.
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