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Govt to take tough love approach to financial assistance

Tougher requirements for Financial Assistance proposed by Community Minister Wayne Scott have been approved in Parliament.

The amendment won broad support from Opposition MPs.

They include requirements that recipients register with the Department of Workforce Development — and give the Director of Financial Assistance the power to require recipients to attend life skills programmes or vocational training.

An able-bodied recipient who has failed to find a job after three months could be ordered to do up to 15 hours a week of community service. They may also be referred for substance abuse assessment.

The Minister said the amendments allowed Government to offer assistance beyond mere financial help.

“We have given our people fish — we will now aim to teach our people how to fish,” Mr Scott said, adding that Financial Assistance is not “a right”.

More and more people are applying for assistance, he said. For the 2012 to 2013, fiscal year there were 385 in the second quarter and 498 for the most recent quarter.

Shadow Minister Michael Weeks said the amendments would “bring Financial Assistance into the 21st century”.

However, he added that not all applicants needed parenting and financial classes.

“We have to be careful we don’t just put that blanket over all applicants,” he said.

Progressive Labour Party MP Glenn Blakeney called the measures “prudent” but said the Department itself was heavily stressed.

“On this side we have no real contention or objection,” the former Minister said, but added: “I don’t know how Government will find a way to infuse the capital required to reduce the number of clients per case worker.”

And Independent MP Terry Lister cautioned that measures designed to decrease clients shouldn’t frustrate people or chase them away.

“Ultimately, the real help people will get is through jobs,” Mr Weeks said, challenging Government to say more on plans to generate employment.

Mr Lister supported life skills requirements but added: “What we don’t have is any control or knowledge of its application in reality.”

PLP MP Michael Scott agreed: “We don’t need to add, in bad economic conditions for people looking for financial assistance, added stress.”

Mr Scott called for a “more human, respectful approach” in the rush to address social problems, and said training was the trigger for innovation.

“We can do better,” Mr Scott told MPs, asking that training be looked into going forward.

PLP MP Wayne Furbert told the House the numbers of people on financial assistance were “not really that high”. He speculated whether rent assistance could even be cut because rents have fallen. Mr Furbert threw in his support but said: “I hope they don’t hurt those who really need it.”

In a committee debate, Mr Scott was challenged by Mr Blakeney to explain protocols for assessing substance abuse problems. Mr Lister asked to hear what life skills programmes were in place.

The Minister said a Department social worker would make referrals, and that life skills programmes were offered by the Department of Workforce Development, the National Training Board and Bermuda College. Parenting classes are offered under Government’s Child Development programme. Their frequency would be as deemed necessary.

Minister of Community and Cultural Development Wayne Scott

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Published June 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 29, 2013 at 8:12 am)

Govt to take tough love approach to financial assistance

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