Wednesday 19 October 2022
I welcome this opportunity to update the Assembly on the Committee forEmployment & Social Security's progress on its key priorities and to bring members up to speed on some new pieces of work which have started, or are about, to start.
Last year the States recognised the need for more affordable housing by committing £32.6m to deliver the Affordable Housing Development Programme.
Kick-started by the Housing Action Group last year, my Committee has been very busy securing several large sites for the development of affordable housing, working closely with the Policy & Resources Committee and our delivery partner, the Guernsey Housing Association.
There are further sites in the pipeline, but regrettably I can't reveal any further information about them today as they're in the process of sensitive commercial negotiation.
I'm pleased to report that construction on some sites is scheduled to commence in 2023, starting with La Vieille Plage, which will provide 14 units of accommodation for adults with learning disabilities.
The GHA was also supported to purchase the former Channel Island Tyres site, which will be developed for urgently needed key worker accommodation.
The planning applications for two of our larger sites, Fontaine Vinery and Parc Le Lacheur, are scheduled for consideration at open planning meetings in the coming months. The Guernsey Business Park site was also purchased earlier in the year, and work is underway to submit the relevant applications to the Development & Planning Authority.
Between these sites, and the redevelopment of Les Genats Estate, which is also in the pipeline, the GHA will be able to deliver approximately 650 homes.
While this sounds like a lot, it needs to be remembered that this is for social rental, partial ownership, key worker housing and specialised accommodation for HSC service users, and there is significant demand in all of those categories.
Sticking with the affordable housing theme, Members will recall that my Committee, and P&R, are considering the transfer of the States Housing to the Guernsey Housing Association, subject to more detailed work on the practicalities, including a stock survey and valuation.
We were hoping to have concluded the various workstreams by now, and for this work to have informed our views on the business case for such a transfer. It now looks most likely that any potential Policy Letter in this regard will be lodged early next year.
Moving onto secondary pensions, the Assembly will debate the sursis'd policy letter, and the accompanying Projet, next month. Last week, we provided an opportunity for Members to hear from one of the architects of the equivalent policy in the UK. Helen Dean, now CEO of Nest Pensions - the UK equivalent of YIP (Your Island Pension) - discussed the success of the UK policy and I would like to thank Members for attending what was, I think, a very interesting event, and their subsequent engagement and questions.
The Committee was delighted that the Prevention of Discrimination (Guernsey) Ordinance, 2022 was agreed by the States last month. This was a very significant milestone after more than five years of intense Committee focus on this complex area of policy.
States Members may be forgiven for thinking that that unanimous vote meant that phase one of the Discrimination Ordinance was completed. However, there are a number of pieces of related outstanding policy and legislative work that my Committee will be continuing to progress ahead of the Ordinance coming into force in most respects on 1 October 2023.
So, ESS has made great strides in securing land for affordable housing, putting the essential building blocks in place to massively enhance islanders' pension saving, and outlawing discrimination.
I'll now turn my attention to some new projects that you probably won't have heard so much about.
I'm pleased to report that Phase 3 of the Supporting Occupational Health & Wellbeing (SOHWELL) programme has got underway. This has been identified as a health recovery action under the Government Work Plan. Although still at an early stage of development, it is envisaged that the programme will have a focus on prevention and early intervention activities, to improve access to occupational health and the health and wellbeing of the population. The Committee looks forward to working in partnership with the Committee forHealth & Social Care to progress this important work.
Work is also getting underway on the planned review of Legal Aid, funded through the Justice Framework. A draft Statement of Works has been prepared and is due to be considered by the Committee forHome Affairs, the Policy & Resources Committee and my Committee in the coming weeks.
Another area that the Committee plans to turn its attention to is long-term care financing and reform. In August 2020, the States agreed, in principle, that the Long-term Care Insurance Scheme should be extended to incorporate care provided at home and directed my Committee and HSC to develop implementation plans for this proposal. The States noted that it was estimated that this would require a 0.4% increase in contribution rates. This was on top of the increase already required to put the existing model of the Scheme on a sound financial footing.
The States acknowledged, at that time, that reliance on increased contribution rates to ensure the financial sustainability of the Long-term Care Insurance Fund, in the context of changing demographics, risked increasing intergenerational unfairness.
Notwithstanding that, the States rejected the Committee's proposal that it be directed, along with the Policy & Resources Committee, to investigate options to moderate the increase in contributions which would otherwise be required, such as introducing a requirement, akin to that under Jersey's equivalent scheme, that those with very significant capital assets be expected to contribute up to 10% of those assets to meet the first tranche of the costs otherwise covered by the Long-term Care Insurance Scheme.
Clearly, this needs to be explored in the context of our aging population and budgetary challenges and this is high on the Committee's agenda for 2023. I know this won't be popular, but it would be irresponsible to expand the scope of the Long-term Care Scheme to incorporate care provided at home without a clear funding plan.
Another recent decision has been to extend the suspension of income limits for existing social housing tenants for another two years until the end of 2024 in order to encourage our tenants to maximise their economic participation. And we guarantee in advance that if and when such limits are reintroduced it will be with "grandfather rights" which exempts anybody who can show they increased their income beyond those limits during the three years when the policy was suspended.
Finally, as we reach the time of year when our energy bills go up, I'd like to encourage anyone who's struggling financially to contact the MyGov Customer Hub team on 221000 to find out if they're eligible for financial support.
Income support is a means tested benefit that provides financial assistance to people both with and without work.
If someone's already receiving income support and has a health condition or disability which means they need to spend extra on energy, laundry, clothing, or diet, they might qualify for an extra needs allowance of up to £20 per week. An application form is available online.
The winter fuel allowance of £37.06 a week is automatically paid to all householders receiving income support. But a reduced winter fuel allowance may also be payable to a householder if they don't normally qualify for Income Support if their weekly income exceeds benefit rates by less than the level of the winter fuel allowance.
Income support can also provide assistance with reasonable medical and paramedical expenses for people whose income is just above the entitlement threshold for income support.
A person can qualify for a 'medical-only' claim if their net household income exceeds their total household requirement rate by less than £50 per week, or less than £100 per week in exceptional circumstances, provided that their savings are below a fixed limit. This effectively softens the income support means test and enables people to access essential medical and paramedical services who may otherwise struggle to afford to.
These 'excesses' over requirement rates in order to qualify for medical only benefits have remained unchanged in cash terms since 2014. ESS would very much like to increase them by £50 in order to help that hard to reach group of households on modest incomes but above Income Support during the cost of living crisis. A conversation in this respect is ongoing with P&R.
There's no shame in seeking financial support. It is an absolute entitlement. I am always puzzled why almost no one is sheepish about claiming family allowance but some people seemingly are over income support.
They shouldn't be and I encourage people who are struggling to do just that.