The Eradication of Poverty in Jersey

 

 

 

food

Caritas Jersey seeks to resurrect the Eradicate Poverty Campaign of 29 years ago.

In an interview at the beginning of the year John Scally, Executive Director of Caritas Jersey, announced that Caritas Jersey would like to see the Eradication of poverty Campaign of over 20 years ago, resurrected.  The information contained in the resurrected & Social Services health Panel Report (see below) would seem to indicate that the gap between the have’s and have not’s of  is increasing and is higher than in the UK.

Caritas responds to an invitation from Scrutiny panel

In February this year Caritas Jersey was invited to respond to the Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel on the problems of living on a low wage in Jersey.  Here is a copy of Deputy Scrutiny letter of invitation and our reply:

9th February 2016 Dear Sir/Madam

Ref: 517/34

Scrutiny Office

Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel

Living on Low Income

The Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel is currently undertaking a review of people on low income in Jersey. The Panel want to examine what measures are in place to help people who are living on low income and assess how the situation is being monitored.

In 2015, the Statistics Unit published the Jersey Household Income Distribution Survey 2014/15 report. The report presents information on the incomes of Jersey households, from a large survey of Jersey households carried out over a thirteen month period (April 2014 – May 2015). The report revealed that income inequality has increased since 2009/10 and that income inequality was worse in Jersey in 2014/15 than in the UK.

Last year, the States Assembly debated and approved the Medium Term Financial Plan. The changes included a £10 million reduction in the benefits budget by freezing spending at 2015 levels until 2019. A freeze in benefits has caused us some concern taking into consideration the findings of the Jersey Household Income Distribution Survey which showed that income inequality has increased since 2009/10. It is unfortunate that the results of the survey were published after the debate on the Medium Term Financial Plan.

The Panel’s Terms of Reference for the review are as follows:

  1. To investigate the impact of the incidence in Jersey of relative low income households as referred to in the Household Income Distribution Survey report 2014/15
  2. To assess the evidence of relative low income in comparison with previous years
  3. To determine whether the incidence of relative low income in Jersey has increased and, if so, the reasons for such increase
  4. To assess the effectiveness of States of Jersey policy with regard to tackling relative low income
  5. To assess the effectiveness of methods used to monitor the implementation of policies that aim to reduce the incidence of relative low income
  6. To assess the delivery of support and help available to those on low income
  7. To determine the effects of the changes to the benefits system contained in the Medium Term Financial Plan affecting those on relative low income

We are currently gathering evidence relating to our review and I write to invite you to make a written submission. We note that Caritas Jersey reaches out to all sections of the community and all aspects of Island life, acting as an umbrella group for Catholic Social Action. Therefore, we would like to know your thoughts and experiences of those currently living on a low income. Whilst we would be happy to receive evidence relating to any aspect of the review topic, we would be particularly grateful if you were able to answer the following questions:

  1. Has there been an increase in the number of people living on low income? If so, what do you think are the causes of the increase?
  2. How does living on a low income typically affect the people you work with?
  3. Do you think the benefit system is adequate to support those on a low income?
  4. What improvements do you think could be made to the benefits system?

Please feel free to elaborate upon any of your answers. We would be grateful to receive a written submission in the first instance, however, if you would like to speak to the Panel in person please let our Scrutiny Officer know (details below) who can make the appropriate arrangements.

Contact:
We would be grateful to receive your views by Friday 25th March 2016. You can get in touch in

the following ways:

Letter: F.A.O – Leah Stoodley, Scrutiny Office, Morier House, St Helier, JE1 1DD Email: l.Stoodley@gov.je
Fax: 441077

Please note that all written and oral submissions will be uploaded to the Scrutiny website as a matter of course with the exception of any evidence received under a confidential or private agreement, which, in accordance with Jersey Data Protection legislation, will not be released into the public domain.

Your participation in this review is important, and we look forward to receiving your contribution. Yours Sincerely

Deputy Richard Renouf Chairman
Health and Social Security Panel

Scrutiny Office | States Greffe | Morier House | St Helier | Jersey | JE1 1DD Tel: 01534 441080 | Fax: 01534 441077 | email: scrutiny@gov.je

Caritas Jersey responded as follows:

Deputy Richard Renoulf

Chairman

Health and Social Security Panel

Scrutiny Office,

States Greffe,

Morier House,

St Helier,

Jersey

JE1 1DD

 

23 February 2016

Dear Deputy Renouf,

Health and Social Security Panel

Living on Low Income

I refer to your letter of 9th February in which you seek the views of Caritas Jersey and our associated Catholic Social Action Groups on a number of questions related to those struggling to live in Jersey on a low income.  I have consulted my colleagues and we would respond as follows:

Question 1 – Has there been an increase in the number of people living on a low income and if so what are the causes of this increase?

Response 1 – We have noted increases in January and February this year in the number of requests for financial and material (mainly food) support.  This increase has been greater on a ‘month to month’ basis than in previous years.  That said, it is too early to say whether or not this increase will be sustained in the weeks and months to come or whether or not the increase is related to changes in States policies.   However, we anticipate that the freeze on benefits will cumulatively increase the number and degree of dependency upon our charitable giving.

Question 2 – How does living on a low income typically affect the people we work with?

Response 2 – Living on a low income means having no savings, no cushion and great stress and worry.  Having a low income in Jersey means having to work longer or having more than one job in order to have a decent standard of living.  Working longer or on more than one job means less (or no) time for family or for leisure, with all the consequent pressure on married life, quality of life and quality of parenting.  Family break up is costly for the States.  Poor parenting leads to poor achievement in education and life skills and this is transmitted down through the generations, again with increased costs for the Public Purse.  All this stress impacts upon both physical and mental health and this is fast becoming an ever-greater burden on the States’ budgets, a situation that is mirrored in the UK.  But we would argue that this is a burden of the States’ own making.  The phrase ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ comes to mind.

Question 3 – Does the benefit system adequately support those on low incomes?

Response 3 – In comparative terms, the current benefit system is fair to those who qualify to receive benefits.  However, as the proposed freeze on benefits bites it will become unfair.   The benefits freeze will undoubtedly create further hardship and by 2019 we anticipate the problem will become very serious and require an urgent injection of public funds thereby negating the savings achieved and making the suffering of those on low incomes in this interim period of no benefit or consequence to the States or the Common Good.  A cynic may point out that by then it will be somebody else’s problem.

Question 4. – What improvements could be made to the benefit system?

Response 4 – As previously said, in comparative terms, the current system seems fair.  What is decidedly not fair or just is the fact that benefits will not be allowed to keep pace with the cost of living in Jersey.  It should be remembered that low income is synonymous with a higher cost of living.  ‘Low income’ earners are too preoccupied with work to shop around for bargains.  They do not have the savings to buy in bulk.  Because of time pressures, they often have to buy in the local corner shop where prices are considerably higher and they have to do so on a daily basis.  Unless they are one of the lucky few to be housed by the Housing Trusts, then ‘low income’ earners often have to tolerate low quality accommodation, at high rents.  A progressive housing policy would ease this burden and consequently the demand on benefits.  We would also suggest that there should be some flexibility in the interpretation of the ‘five year’ rule perhaps on a ‘case by case’ basis.

In the view of Caritas Jersey many of these problem arise from the fact that some who can work are being denied a fair wage: a wage that will allow workers to have a decent standard of living – a standard of living that many of us take for granted.

Some have argued that ‘in work’ benefits, when taken with the minimum wage, equates to a ‘living wage’.  We do not believe that this is the case.  Even if it were so, what happens to those who cannot work or have no work or who (because of the five year rule or for other reasons) cannot access the benefit system?  And even if the sum of the ‘in work’ benefits and the minimum wage did equate to a living wage, why is it fair and just that the burden of making up this difference should fall on the taxpayer and not the employer?

Caritas Jersey has committed itself to promoting the adoption of a ‘living wage’ in Jersey.  We seek a voluntary adoption by employers.  We are not campaigning for a statutory living wage.  We hope that the economic and ethical arguments in favour of paying a living wage will find resonance with Jersey’s politicians and employers.  We recognize that this will be a greater challenge for some sectors of the economy than others but we do not agree that this can be resolved by absolving these challenged sectors from dealing fairly with their employees.  For example, if indeed the burden of paying a living wage to agricultural workers is too severe for Jersey’s farmers because they do not have the cushion of Government or EU grants and subsidies, then, in justice, the problem lies in that direction and not with the low paid worker.

Over the next few weeks and months Caritas Jersey will work with an independent Advisory Committee to consider how best to manage this promotion.  We will also be taking independent advice from the distinguished economist who advises the Living Wage Foundation in UK on the national rate for a living wage.  This gentleman has previously worked on aspects of the Channel Islands’ economy and will be advising us on an appropriate rate for Jersey.   We will be happy to discuss this rate with the Scrutiny Panel if it so wishes.

The evidence of the Statistical Unit, that income inequality has increased in recent years and that the gap is now worse in Jersey than in the UK, is of no surprise to those ‘at the coal face’.  We believe that the benefits freeze will exacerbate this inequality gap.  We believe that the policy is flawed and will be an expensive error for the States.

We hope that these few comments will be of assistance to the Scrutiny Panel.  We regret the absence, at the moment, of hard statistical evidence to support our assertions.  We wish the Panel well its investigations.

Kind regards,

John Scally

Executive Director

Caritas Jersey

19 Val Plaisant

St Helier

JE2 4TA

Office Tel:   +44 (0) 1534 768963

Home Tel:   +44 (0) 1534 738477

Mobile Tel:           07797 782436

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