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Only choice ‘demeaning’ financial assistance

Senior support: Claudette Fleming, of Age Concern Bermuda (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Laying bare every detail of her personal finances is nothing but stress for one great-grandmother who feels she has no other choice to ensure her financial survival.

The 66-year-old has lost her job and fearing that her age will hinder her ability to find new employment, is dreading having to ask the Bermuda Government for financial assistance again.

According to Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming, her situation is symptomatic of a much larger problem where seniors cannot afford to live in Bermuda and in some cases are choosing to move abroad.

And Sheelagh Cooper, founder of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, which runs the local branch of Habitat for Humanity, said it was receiving “significantly” more calls from seniors.

“I hate to think that I have to go up there,” the West End resident, who asked not to be identified out of fear that it would jeopardise her ability to receive help, told The Royal Gazette.

“You’re going up there for help and it’s very stressful. But where else am I supposed to go? If your rent is not paid, your landlord doesn’t want to hear that — he’ll put you out on the street.

“Michael Dunkley, he is the Premier, he is the head of it all. He needs to work it out. Something has to be done because people are struggling and suffering here.”

She added that the powers that be need to come together, “sort it all out” and find a better system or hire “somebody else up there who really enjoys helping people”.

Mrs B has been “off and on” financial assistance about six times over the past 15 years. After losing her job, she will have to go through the “demeaning” process yet again because her pension does not cover her expenses.

She said she was previously required to bring her passport, bank statements and outstanding bills as part of the intake process.

Every week she had to take in her electricity and telephone bills along with her paystubs, as well as her bank statements every three months. “That’s personal and to take in your bank statements — that’s bad. You don’t know who’s looking at this stuff.

“It’s nothing but stress. I am stressed out and I am tired. It’s really sad. Bermuda never used to be like this.”

Mrs B receives a monthly pension of just under $800.

“If your rent is $1,600 how are you supposed to pay your rent and get groceries? You just can’t make it.

“It’s terrible. I can remember years ago you can go to the grocery store and get a bag of groceries for $50 and get change back!

“Bermuda needs a wake-up call because there are so many people stressed out in this country.”

Mrs B wants to find more work but she questioned her chances as a senior citizen.

“I hope I can find something. But it’s hard to get a job at 66.”

According to Ms Cooper, Habitat Bermuda is receiving significantly more calls from seniors “who are living in houses that are virtually uninhabitable, meaning that roofs or floors were caving in or broken, non-functioning windows or doors”.

“So far this year alone, eight of our projects have involved seniors. Indeed, many of those involved multiple generations; often three generations living in what to most people often would look like an abandoned home.”

And Dr Fleming said more needs to be done for senior citizens in Bermuda, stressing that Mrs B’s situation is part of a bigger problem.

“Bermuda is becoming a place where seniors can’t afford to live. And that has got to concern people; that has got to concern the Government of the day.

“They need support. We have this responsibility not to turn them into paupers who have to beg for money.

“As we see the number of these cases growing, we have to question how effectively we are managing the ageing of our population.”

She also questioned if the help provided by the Government was reaching those who need it.

“You’re leaving this middle group with no other choice but to go completely broke, completely destitute before they can get help,” she said.

“They don’t want that. I see more and more older people; they can’t do it in this economy.”

She added that seniors were having to make the choice to live in other countries because the “current system on the island is challenged to support them with dignity”.

To help support them, she suggested greater subsidies for health insurance, particularly medication. In addition, more alternative and affordable housing options, especially for those needing long-term care, as well as more work opportunities and concessions for groceries.

“And those that have money can pay more for those that don’t in terms of taxation,” she said. But she added that these were the “things people don’t want to hear”.

The Government was asked for comment but no response was received.

Are you a senior who is considering moving abroad for financial reasons, or do you know somebody who has already gone? E-mail news@royalgazette.com