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Statement by the President of the Committee for Employment & Social Security

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Wednesday 25 May 2022

General Update

Sir,

I'll start with housing, which is undoubtedly the biggest issue facing the island at present, but I'll confine my remarks to affordable housing, in line with my Committee's mandate.

To clarify, that mandate is for 'affordable housing', in the legal sense. This includes social rental housing, key worker housing and specialised housing as well as 'intermediate housing' such as the Partial Ownership Scheme. It doesn't include housing that people might find affordable in the private sector.

At the end of March, well over 500 applicants were on the waiting lists for social rental or partial ownership housing. And there's a predicted requirement for an additional 100 - 150 key worker housing units within the next few years.

On top of that, we need to build a number of specialist housing facilities along the lines of the successful Le Vieux Jardin design.

Taking all this into account, we need well over 600 units of affordable housing just to meet current demands. However, it's obviously prudent to plan to meet the projected housing requirement needs too. As I have said before, we are going to need at least 1,000 additional affordable housing units over the next 5 years - 10 years.

There are no quick fixes but the Committee, together with our development partner, the Guernsey Housing Association (GHA), and with financial support from P&R, is working hard to accelerate the development of existing sites and to secure additional sites to create a pipeline of new affordable housing for the future.

I can't provide a comprehensive update on all the sites the Committee is actively pursuing, due to commercial sensitivities, but I can update members on progress in relation to three sites which have already been acquired.

Planning permission has been received by the GHA for La Vielle Plage at L'Islet. This specialist housing development will provide 14 units for adults with learning disabilities. It's hoped that work will start on site in quarter 3 of this year.

A planning application for phase 1 of the development of Fontaine Vinery has been submitted and is expected to be published by the DPA soon. If approved, phase 1 will provide 91 units.

I'm really excited by the plans for this site which place a real focus on improved travel options and amenity value for future residents, as well as making significant inroads into meeting the Island's affordable housing requirements.

A concept design is being prepared for Parc Le Lacheur - as the Kenilworth Vinery site will be known. Although exact numbers have yet to be confirmed, the site has a potential yield of 135 units, plus another specialised housing facility. The GHA is hoping to submit a planning application this summer.

In addition, the Committee is working closely with the GHA on designs to infill some areas within existing affordable housing sites, on estate redevelopment options, pursuing the acquisition of a number of other private sites, and seeking permission to utilise some sites in States ownership.

ESS, and P&R, have recently reaffirmed their in-principle decisions to support the transfer of Guernsey's public housing stock to the GHA.

We have sanctioned further work to be undertaken, including a detailed stock survey and subsequent valuation with a view to developing a business case.

Assuming P&R is supportive of that business case, my Committee will try its best to submit the Policy Letter for debate before the end of this year. If the transfer goes ahead the States will retain full strategic and policy responsibility for housing and the GHA would have operational responsibility for housing service delivery.

Moving on. There is no doubt that the current steep increase in the cost of living is causing hardship. While Guernsey has not suffered the massive spike in energy costs which the UK has seen, it is well documented that accommodation here is amongst the least affordable in Europe. That's why I am so keen to see a significant increase in affordable housing.

In the meantime, the main way the States can help is through Income Support. It's there to help anybody who is struggling to make ends meet, whether or not they are in work. I urge anybody in any doubt over whether they qualify to apply.

The usual uprating policy for Income Support is to increase requirement rates by RPIX.  The Committee intends to propose that again this year but there are also likely to be some other adjustments to reflect recent research on Guernsey's minimum income standards.

The other major way we hope to be able to help low income households is by restructuring the social security contribution system as part of the tax reform package.

The introduction of an income tax style "personal contribution allowance" will go a long way to ease the burden on the less well off.  But this transformational change to a much fairer system isn't really affordable as a stand-alone action.  It has to be done in the context of a wider package which increases tax revenues in some way.

Moving on to the new Discrimination Ordinance which is continuing to progress well. Although not a required stage in the legislative drafting process, ESS opted to carry out a technical consultation on the first full draft of the Ordinance.

This was specifically targeted at people with employment or discrimination legislation expertise, or who had a special interest in the Ordinance, such as those who represent stakeholders who will have specific responsibilities under the legislation, or represent a ground of protection.

In response to calls from other members of our community, the Committee later decided to publish the draft Ordinance in the interests of transparency.

I must stress that the consultation specifically did not relate to the policies underpinning the legislation. These had already been agreed by successive States Assemblies in July 2020 and November 2021.

The consultation closed at the end of February and proved to be a very worthwhile exercise. The Committee has considered the feedback received and has given further drafting instructions to the legal drafting team at St James' Chambers.

We will be advising various groups of those changes over the next month or so, including a presentation for States Members.

The Ordinance is currently on track to return to the States at the end of September.

Our training and guidance partners are getting ready to make training sessions and guidance materials available from Quarter 4 of this year.

At the same time, the Employment Relations Service will begin to undergo a soft launch and modest expansion, to become the Employment and Equal Opportunities Service.

We're also planning to publish a comparison between the Guernsey and Jersey discrimination legislation prior to the Guernsey Ordinance being submitted to the Legislation Review Panel.

The Committee has been really pleased to welcome and support displaced Ukrainian residents who have arrived in the Island under the Family and Extension Visa schemes. We have received a handful of income support claims so far which have already been processed enabling the recipients to access the financial support they need.

Key documents explaining our relevant services have been translated into Ukrainian and our staff are following process flows that have been developed across Committees to ensure that they can signpost Ukrainian Nationals to the services that are available to them.

The Committee supports the introduction of a further tailored Sponsorship Scheme with criteria that acknowledge the Bailiwick's circumstances to ensure that we can manage capacity locally.

For example, demand for both social and general housing in Guernsey currently far exceeds supply. As such, the Committee has suggested that any sponsorship scheme should be tailored so that Guernsey can support displaced Ukrainians in a way that does not risk increasing those housing pressures.

Unemployment has been relatively stable over the last three months with small reductions seen since February. The number of jobseekers without work as of 30 April 2022 was 292. This is a positive indicator of the health of our economy in what have been challenging times.

On the other side of the coin the Job Centre has promoted 469 job adverts on its website this month which indicates that some employers are struggling to recruit.

Finally, a word on the state of our Funds. The Guernsey Insurance Fund continues to operate at a loss, before investment returns, with a drawdown of £6M in the first quarter of this year.

Pressure on the Fund is growing both because of the rising numbers of pensioners and the need to increase pensions at least in line with inflation.

The Long-term Care Insurance Fund is currently generating a surplus but that situation is forecast to worsen very significantly if action isn't taken.

That's why contribution rates for both schemes are currently being incrementally increased. This is essential but ESS would far prefer that money were collected using a much fairer contribution system which protected islanders on low incomes.

 

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