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

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Wednesday 18 March 2020

General Update

Sir, as this is the last President's Update that I'll have the privilege to give, I would like to mention a few of the Committee's accomplishments over this political term.

The successful implementation of Income Support is something we are very proud of. With the support of this Assembly we successfully merged the previous Supplementary Benefit and Rent Rebate schemes into a unified system. Despite some nervousness around how the implementation would be achieved and what would be the consequences, the results of the first full year, 2018, have turned out as close to budget as you could reasonably hope for, being £200,000 below the £41m budget.

ESS has launched a number of digital products this term to improve our customer's experience. We introduced an Uploads App as a simple, efficient and cost effective system for income support claimants to provide information regarding their wages, thereby allowing their benefits to be paid promptly. It also reduced the number of claimants coming into the office to provide this information.

We are pleased to be working with Agilysis at the forefront of the States digital transformation and look forward to continuing to improve our processes with the innovative use of technology in future.

I'm pleased to say that the proposals to introduce automatic enrolment into private pensions and to establish what has been called 'Your Island Pension', or 'YIP' for short, received strong support in this assembly and was approved in February of this year. With the assistance of our selected administration firm, Smart Pension Limited, we are confident that Guernsey will have a secondary pension scheme, 'Your Island Pension', which will be easy to use, have a low annual management charge and will encourage people of working age to save more for their retirement.

One of the first jobs for the new Committee will be to appoint a shadow governing board to assist in these matters and prepare for the Secondary Pension scheme's commencement in 2022.

I'm also very pleased to report good progress on a reciprocal agreement on social security pensions with Latvia. Since Guernsey received an entrustment from the UK, in March of last year, to undertake its own negotiations with Latvia, there have been two rounds of meetings and the text of the agreement is very near final. We are hopeful that the Agreement will be signed between Guernsey and Latvia before the general Election. The Agreement will not be immediately effective, because it will need an Ordinance which should be an early matter for the next Assembly. But I'm pleased that we will have brought this piece of work so close to completion.

One of the Committee's highest, and most resource intensive, priorities during this term has been developing the proposals for a new discrimination Ordinance. The proposals are now lodged for debate, in April. If approved, the subsequent legislation will make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of disability, carer status, and race.

While the Committee's original consultation included ten grounds of protection, the decision was made in November to scale back and refocus on a smaller number of grounds, as there was a significant amount of additional work that was required to make changes following the feedback gained through the extensive consultation process. The other grounds of protection have not been forgotten. The proposals also seek approval for the future development of discrimination legislation on the grounds of age, religious belief, sexual orientation and for further work to be undertaken to extend existing protection on grounds relating to sex.

We've worked extremely hard to find a compromise solution that takes into consideration some of the main concerns from the business community, while ensuring the legislation still delivers its objective of protecting people from discrimination. The reality is that discrimination does happen in Guernsey and we have a responsibility to those islanders whose rights remain unprotected to bring in discrimination legislation without further delay. Discrimination legislation will play a vital role in fulfilling the promise made in the Policy and Resources Plan to make Guernsey a place where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve their potential.

Another achievement that I'd like to acknowledge is the approval by this Assembly of the Legal Aid Ordinance. This formalised the Legal Aid Rules, which was a piece of work that had been outstanding since 2003, long before it came under the Committee's mandate after the reform in 2016. Codifying the structure and operation of the Legal Aid Service has put it on a proper legal footing.

I'd like to update members on some of the good work that has been done in Housing. In October 2018 the Single Gateway to Social Housing was introduced, bringing together the waiting lists for States Housing and the Guernsey Housing Association properties into one route of access. It uses a single set of eligibility criteria and replaced the old points-based allocations system with a banding system linked to need and waiting times. This has created a much fairer and more efficient system.

In seeking to meet the Island's affordable housing requirements, during this political term the Committee has worked with the GHA to complete the development of 164 affordable housing units. Of these, 69 have been for social rental, 65 for partial ownership, 22 for key worker, and also an 8 unit autism facility at Le Vieux Jardin. There are also a further 81 units either under construction or approved for development. While the development of these units has made significant inroads in meeting the Island's social rental and partial ownership waiting lists, securing more land is a priority if the Island's wider affordable housing requirements are to be met. There are no further confirmed development or redevelopment sites. While the GHA is making every effort to secure new sites, we have to be mindful that, at present, none are guaranteed. Unless more sites can be secured and approved for development, the Island's social rental and partial ownership waiting lists will increase; key workers will continue to be housed in what is widely considered unsuitable accommodation; the wider affordable housing requirements of the Island will not be met in an efficient or appropriate way. Seeking to identify and project the Island's affordable housing requirements - across all tenures within - is a priority. Only then can an appropriate development and redevelopment plan be made. Work has begun in seeking to achieve this, and will continue beyond this Term; it is hoped that significant and appropriate steps will be made early in the next Term.

Next, I'd like to talk about the progress made by the Supported Occupational Health and Wellbeing programme, SOHWELL, whereby phase two is now complete and its third and final phase is soon to start. The programme aims to reduce the rising trend in long-term incapacity by transforming the way short-term incapacity claims are managed. To give you an idea of the sums involved, the cost of benefits in 2019, for short and long-term sickness, and for people on income support by reason of incapacity, was £20.1m. I understand that the annual costs of sickness absence for UK businesses is around £554 per employee, and so we can estimate that the cost to businesses is around £15.6m on top of that. It's about changing behaviours and enabling people to return to work sooner, if, of course, it is possible and appropriate for them to do so. To recap, phase one delivered a redesign medical certificate and work capability assessment, and resulted in case managers and doctors working in a different way and with a greater emphasis on occupational health and vocational rehabilitation. Phase two focussed on employer engagement and raising awareness of the important relationship between work and health. Promoting SOHWELL has encouraged employers to consider occupational health in a broad context and to re-evaluate their process and policies. We have received good feedback from employers, who tell us the new certificate provides more opportunities for open and honest conversations with staff, helping them to manage sickness or a condition. Looking forward, phase three will focus on adopting a multi-team approach, working closer together with HSC and the medical profession and employers to really listen and understand how we can continue to improve our processes.

It's important that I provide an update on the steps we have taken to support the fight against COVID-19. We have moved quickly to simplify our processes and make it easy for those individuals who are self-isolating following Public Health advice and who need to make claim for sickness benefit to do so without seeing a doctor. Claims can be made by contacting the Incapacity Benefits team. Social Security will be taking claims digitally wherever possible so that claims can be made while self-isolating. We will be doing our upmost to make pragmatic decisions as more information becomes available and as the situation unfolds.

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