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

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Wednesday 12 June 2019

General Update

Sir, I'm pleased to take this opportunity to provide an update on some of the Committee for Employment & Social Security's work streams.

The first thing I'd like to talk about is the progress with disability discrimination legislation for Guernsey. I'm pleased to report that we are on target to launch our consultation on the new multi-ground discrimination legislation proposals at the beginning of July. We will be consulting on the basis for legislation which will prohibit discrimination on a number of grounds, for example: disability, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, and a number of others.

The legislation will provide protection in a range of fields including employment, goods and services, education and accommodation. We will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholder groups across the different fields and the different grounds of protection. The consultation will run for at least 2 months until early in the autumn. Following this consultation period, the Committee will analyse the responses received and revise its proposals where necessary. We will return to the States with a policy letter before the end of this States term, most likely for debate in April 2020.

It is difficult to describe the huge effort that has been required of staff in researching and preparing the documentation for the Committee's consideration and decision making.

In parallel to the legislation piece, the Committee is also developing proposals for an Equality Rights Organisation, or ERO for short. We had hoped to bring forward a policy letter on the ERO before launching the consultation on the legislation. However, because of the extent of effort needed, we have had to prioritise our efforts into the legislation consultation. This is to ensure that we can still meet our target of bringing proposals back to the States, by spring 2020, on both the multi-ground discrimination ordinance and the ERO.

Before closing on this topic, I just want to mention our Disability and Inclusion Strategy Highlight reports, which we publish every 2 months. These reports include detailed information about progress that has been made on the various work streams set out in the Strategy, with a simple traffic light system showing the status of work streams. So without having to wade through lots of words, you can see at a glance whether things are on track, or off track. We do this to be transparent and open. The only trouble is that the red lights by definition ring the alarms among our stakeholders and I find myself having to repeatedly answer similar questions in the media. But we will keep the reports going. And I'm confident that when we publish our consultation documents next month, and in particular, one of the detailed documents intended for those requiring in-depth details of the Committee's proposals for the new discrimination legislation rather than an overview, the amount of work that has been invested in this project, and our commitment to it, will be obvious.

The next thing I'd like to talk about is a successful amendment from Deputy Dorey in 2015, which was to investigate whether some, or all, of the family allowance budget should be reallocated to specific children's services. This resolution came soon after the Personal Tax, Benefits and Pensions Review, undertaken jointly by the Treasury and Resources Department and the Social Security Department. The States had noted the view of those Departments that family allowances should be phased out through gradual reductions in the amount paid, while personal tax allowances increased substantially.

Deputy Dorey's amendment sought to ring-fence the funding on family allowance, so that if the allowances were to end as a cash benefit, the funds would still be spent to the benefit of children. We've been investigating some options for how this could work, with the help of Health & Social Care, Education, Sport & Culture and P&R. We've looked at options including subsidised GP appointments and dental care for children, as well as increasing the provision of free pre-school education, and providing enrichment activities and homework clubs in secondary schools. These were suggestions made in Deputy Dorey's amendment as services that should be considered in place of family allowances, if family allowances were to be reduced or removed.

We'll be bringing a policy letter to the States this year, depending upon resources, setting out the background to this piece of work and some possible options. I wanted to mention this today, as I'm aware that Education, Sport & Culture will very shortly submit their forthcoming policy letter on implementing last year's States' policy directions on transforming education, and in that policy letter they will be referring to the family allowance budget as a possible source of future funding to offset the costs of an improved programme of enrichment activities in secondary schools, that we understand will be proposed.

Next, I'd like to focus on Housing. In July 2018, the States agreed the States Strategic Housing Indicator be set at creating 635 new units of accommodation between 2017 and 2021, with a plus or minus variance of 149 new units to give the flexibility to react to market changes. In addition, for the first time, the States agreed to separate the Indicator into Affordable Housing and Private Market Housing Indicators. The Affordable Housing Indicator was set at 178 new units over the next 5 years, with a plus or minus variance of 32 units.

The Committee has been working with the GHA and the current development programme looks set to meet the Affordable Housing Indicator up to 2021, which will see almost 200 general needs social rental and partial ownership units developed over the 5 year period. While this is very encouraging, the development programme will see all units developed out by February 2021 and no confirmed development beyond this date. The Island's social rental and partial ownership housing requirements don't cease to exist beyond 2021, so to ensure that a consistent supply of affordable housing occurs to meet the Island's requirements, plans need to be made to acquire sites upon which to develop. Extensive analysis of existing social rental housing requirements has been undertaken and this will help the Committee to determine exactly what should be built to ensure the Island's housing requirements continue to be worked towards. At present, no units have come to fruition as a result of the Affordable Housing Policy - Policy GP11 - set out in the Island Development Plan, so we are looking to secure sites that are either States-owned or privately owned that can be developed as affordable housing. The options for States-owned sites have been limited, or come with relatively long timescales, so we really are having to consider all options available to us. We have to make sure there is no gap in development, or the Island could find itself facing increasing social rental and partial ownership waiting lists, with the housing requirements of low income households not being met in an efficient way.

I'd now like to briefly talk about the annual minimum wage process. Last year, the States approved a medium term plan, based on aligning minimum wage with 60% of median earnings over five years. This sets the direction for employers and employees to know what to expect in the medium term. One year in, the Committee will not be recommending that we deviate from that recently made plan. Because of this, we'll not be conducting a full consultation with a questionnaire this year, but we'll still be writing to the industry groups, to get their views as usual. We'll be bringing the policy letter to the States in the Autumn, setting out the proposed minimum wage rates, including accommodation and food offsets, for 2020.

I'd like to end on a good news story. We've received two certificates of merit from the International Social Security Association in relation to areas of good practice. We're really pleased to see Guernsey being recognised in this way on an international platform alongside much larger jurisdictions. The first is the States of Guernsey 'Uploads' App, which was developed in collaboration with ISS, and enables income support claimants to submit their wage slips to us through their mobile phones, rather than having to call into the building. Not only does this improve the customer service experience that claimants have, enabling them to submit their wage slip from the comfort of their own home at a time of day that suits them, but it also has the effect of reducing footfall into Wheadon House.

The second work stream was the Supporting Occupational Health and Wellbeing programme, or SOHWELL for short. This was launched in response to a rising trend in long-term incapacity, and recognised the need to transform the way short-term incapacity claims were managed. Phase one resulted in case managers and doctors working in a different way and with a greater focus on occupational health and work rehabilitation. A positive outcome has been the enthusiastic involvement from doctors who welcomed the opportunity to work with the SOHWELL programme, to identify patients who might be able to return to work more quickly. And we're grateful to Primary Care for this important engagement with the programme. Phase 3 of SOHWELL will be underway soon, and aims to be driven by a multi-agency team, which we intend will result in further benefits being delivered through the programme.

Sir, this concludes my update statement. I now welcome any questions.

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