By John Refault
Sometimes I think that I am out of kilter with today’s reality. Irrespective of their status, finances, health, possessions and lifestyle, people – otherwise known as human beings – are all equal.
Back in the late 1980s I had to attend a meeting at Heathrow Airport after taking the ‘red eye’ first departure of the day. Upon arrival I had to walk down a long corridor and was alone except for an Indian man walking backwards mopping the floor. As I approached him I simply said ‘good morning’. It was his reaction to my greeting that troubled me, as he stopped mopping and just stared at me in amazement. It was only after completing my meeting and returning down the same long corridor that it dawned on me that his surprise came in response to someone recognising him as a person, another human being. That experience still lives with me today when I greet people in passing, recognising them as fellow human beings.
We are not diminished in any way by talking to a person on a bench in King Street or Parade Gardens drinking a can of beer. Just saying hello and asking ‘are you OK?’ does not reduce us in any way, because none of us knows why anyone would want to sit all day on a bench drinking alcohol, nor do we know why such a person feels the need to be in a busy area sometimes getting abuse from passers-by.
The above experiences and thoughts lead me to ask why do we, as a mature society, pay so little attention to the very people working hard to keep our environment clean, be it at home, in the office, the supermarket and even in hospitals? The manual labourers who carry out the tasks that we don’t want to do keep us in our privileged lifestyles, while they are expected to live on low wages and in inappropriate homes.
All this stems from a proposition debated in the States last week – ‘Accommodation for temporary workers’ (P.62/2022) – which was roundly defeated by 40 votes to four.
The very concept of putting people in a ‘Bunkabin’ and calling it a home, or a modified shipping container and charging them a proposed £800 a month for the privilege, so that we, the well-homed, can enjoy the fruits of their labours, is unacceptable. Many of these workers earn as little as the current minimum Jersey wage of £368.80 per week.
While I’m not old enough to recall Victorian times, I’m reminded of the saying attributed by some to Marie Antoinette on learning that peasants were starving and had no bread: ‘Let them eat cake!’
How far from the reality of everyday life must we be if people are struggling to get by in inappropriate homes and relying on charity shops in order to do the best for their family?
I loudly applaud the States Members who kicked P62 far out of the park. Hopefully we’ll never see a similar proposition lodged again.
At the same time I feel sorry for the four Members who supported this divisive proposition – sorry for their lack of compassion and sense of comfort for those who, had the proposal succeeded, would have been consigned to a ‘shanty town’, paying £800 a month (£9,600 a year) for the privilege out of their minimum wage of just £19,177 per annum – just over a half of their total income.
I think that most people now recognise that we have a housing problem and our home-grown families are leaving the Island because of extortionate housing and rental costs. This is a loss to Jersey and a loss to the investment given through their schooling and medical care. But we still hear arguments about immigration and there being ‘too many people’ in the Island, yet, at the same time, we have propositions such as P62.
Yes, there is a problem, but it is a home-grown problem that needs home-grown solutions. We cannot expect our immigrant labour force to ‘eat cake’.
THE Bridging Island Plan has stuttered into life but failed to fully deliver a form of solution such as penalties on empty homes, compulsory purchase of dilapidated properties, a moratorium on new-build mansions which come with large tracts of surrounding land and open land to be re-zoned only for affordable homes.
In my home parish of St Peter I am delighted that we are now able to deliver the first-time-buyer homes that were proposed back in 2018 but were refused by the Planning Department. It is such a shame that the foresight of that time was refused, because that development could have been the spark that lit a recognition of the need for both affordable first-time-buyer units and affordable rental homes for the people of our St Peter community.
John Refault is a former Constable of St Peter, a company director and chair of two local charities: Headway Jersey and Abbeyfield Jersey.