Government ‘underestimates’ scale of poverty in Jersey

Patrick Lynch, chief executive of Caritas (36639807)

THE latest Government Plan ‘underestimates the scale of poverty in the Island’, a charity head has said.

Patrick Lynch, chief executive of Caritas, a Catholic social action group which manages the Living Wage campaign in the Island, also said that few measures in the package of government spending for 2024-2027 applied to people without five years’ residency.

However, the chair of Age Concern, Ben Shenton, said that the ‘very generous budget’ would be ‘appreciated by many of the elderly’ and that it was ‘the most generous budget handout [he had] ever witnessed’.

Mr Lynch said that it was disappointing to see that the government was ‘de-committing to the change from minimum to living wage.

‘I didn’t see any mention in the 115-page document of living wage, which is something that the government previously committed to.’

He continued: ‘A lot of the other measures are not applicable to people under five years’ residency, which is why it’s important to have this commitment and change to living wage.

‘The Community Cost Bonus and cold-weather payments are not applicable to people without that residency requirement. People without five years’ residency are not mentioned, and treated as if it’s a non-issue, whereas we know from the coal face that it is a huge issue, and it’s discriminatory to have measures for some and not for others.’

Mr Lynch added that while raising the tax threshold was ‘laudable’, ‘it did not include those who are already on low wages and ‘it’s not going to change the overall dynamic due to the rent increases that have taken place.

He said his organisation ‘feared’ that last year’s mini budget and the Government Plan ‘underestimate the scale of poverty and living issues in the Island’.

‘How far people’s incomes go is that much less than a year or 18 months ago, largely due to rental pressures on people,’ Mr Lynch added.

However, Mr Shenton said: ‘It is a very generous budget and the increase in pensions and tax allowances shall be appreciated by many of the elderly – as will the £20 reduction in GP appointments. It would be churlish to criticise what is the most generous budget handout I have ever witnessed.

‘I suppose our only concern is how we are we going to pay for it? The increasing use of debt does give the plan the impression we are borrowing from future generations and are unwilling to deal with both the size and cost of government, which may be unsustainable over the long term.’

Responding to Mr Lynch’s comments, the assistant minister for Social Security, Deputy Malcolm Ferey, said: ‘We are not stepping back on our commitment to increase incomes for low-wage earners or our commitment to looking at the feasibility of implementing a statutory living wage in Jersey.

‘The States Assembly has agreed to aim to increase the statutory minimum wage to a target of two-thirds of the median wage by the end of 2024 and investigate the feasibility of converting the minimum wage over time to a legally binding living wage and report back by the end of December.

‘The government remains committed to both decisions and is taking action in these areas. The minimum-wage review for January 2024 will shortly be published. Work on the feasibility of introducing a statutory living-wage calculation is ongoing, with the results due by the end of the year.

‘The government is a living wage employer and the cost of that commitment is embedded within the base budgets of departments as set out in the Government Plan.’

Deputy Ferey added that the Social Security Minister’s plan for 2024 included commitments to provide targeted support and policies to help people with cost-of-living pressures and support employees through increases in the minimum wage.

He said: ‘The current voluntary Caritas Living Wage used in Jersey is based on an uplift of the Living Wage Foundation’s calculation for the London living wage.

‘Implementing a legally binding living-wage rate for Jersey would require careful consideration of the basis of the calculation to ensure that it is relevant to Jersey residents.

‘The government can confirm that it remains fully committed to investigating these options and increasing wages for low-paid employees.’