On 1st December 2010, I had the good fortune of being able to watch Mr Mark Thomas record the first episode of his latest series of The People's Manifesto. For those of you not familiar with the show, it is based on the very simple yet highly effective idea of asking the public (in advance and on the night) to make suggestions as to what they would like to put forward as policies for the people's manifesto. Suggestions vary from the whacky to the poignant: 'All those in favour of the death penalty should sign an agreement that if they do anything wrong, they can be be executed,' and 'All Mecca Bingo Halls should be made to face Mecca.'
One suggestion that did not go down too well with the some of the stuffy types in the States, however, was Mark's suggestion that the UK should 'invade Jersey', Mark having explained to the audience how he had written to the Attorney General to ask about the process for declaring war, the idea being that he wanted to come and recuperate money. stashed in the island by UK tax avoiders.
In the second half of the show, he got wise to the fact that a Jersey politician had infiltrated the show, in the form of St Brelade Deputy, Montfort Tadier. He was surprised that an island as supposedly affluent as Jersey -'an island which is possibly the most rich in this hemisphere per square foot', had so many people who needed State assistance to get by. What ever happened to trickle down?! Whilst the audience quite clearly loved the discussion, the Jersey media and the Social Security Minister were quick to ignore this very salient question and chose instead to deflect attention by proceeding to quibble over my claim that towards 30% of the island required some form of financial support from the State (listen here @21mins).
Some of you will have seen the typically whimsical and biased reporting in last night's edition of the rag. And here is my response to their claim that I allegedly 'botched the figures'.
Enjoy the read.
Dear Editor, I write to you to correct some inaccuracies in your story.
The figures were not ‘botched’, as you claimed last night in your article, and the percentage that Social Security Minister has given does not tell the full story.
On top of the supposed 17% who receive income support, there are many other in receipt of ‘financial support’ (what I was asked about) in other forms. For example, in 2009 1,732 residents claimed the GST (‘Food Costs’) bonus. The GST bonus is given to adults who are not in receipt of Income Support, but who do not earn enough to pay income tax. It is deemed that their income is insufficient for them to afford to pay for foodstuffs as well as the associated 3% (soon to be 5%) tax, so they are compensated for the latter. In other words, they receive financial support from the Government to meet the costs of subsistence. This is paid out by the Social Security department, but is not recognised in the 17% figure which Deputy Gorst has quoted. For some technical reason (no doubt to help keep the figures down) it is not considered part of Income Support. Is it financial support? Quite clearly, yes. Is it paid out to low-income households? Again, yes.
We can go on to consider other benefits that are necessary for many residents simply to survive in Jersey’s affluent society:
For example, there are roughly 6,200 social rental homes in Jersey (some owned directly by the States, others by Housing Trusts), yet 30% of States tenants and 70% of those in Housing Trusts are not on income support. Though their income is above the threshold to qualify for Income Support, they are still not in a position where they can afford to pay the inflated market rates that are required in the private sector. Again, these are not included in Deputy Gorst’s very narrow and conveniently low figures, Yet this, too, - the provision of housing at below market rate - is another form of support which is necessary for many islanders to be able to live in what is becoming an increasingly expensive island, with acute problems when it come to the supply of affordable accommodation.
Of course, what these Statistics do not take into account the many hard working islanders who have lived here for 3 or 4 years, who pay social security, who pay income tax, who often pay a premium for non-qualifed housing – sometimes of questionable quality – yet who are cannot claim Income Support and who will not be compensated by the GST (‘Food Costs’) bonus (something pointed out last month by Mr Ferey of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau).
It is a shame that reporters took the Minister’s ‘lean’ figures at face value, whilst trying to inculpate me for some kind of ‘high treason’, because I dared, on national radio, to tell an inconvenient truth.
The matters raised in Mark Thomas’ radio show regarding Jersey may not be flattering for those in Jersey’s ruling elite, however ordinary residents in Jersey, those on marginal incomes and the 8,000 or so who have already signed the GST petition asking for the dismissal of Treasury Mininster Senator Ozouf do not need Statistics to tell them what they already know: That life in Jersey is a struggle. That they cannot always be sure to meet the bills at the end of the month; they cannot necessarily afford to send their children to university and that very real choices have to be made – for some- between heating and eating.
Moreover, it is high time that more local journalists take a leaf out of Mr Thomas’ book and start asking inconvenient, but essential questions about how it is that in a supposedly rich island such as Jersey there is such a large section of society who are struggling daily in a very real way to make ends meet; why Jersey cannot afford to provide school milk for children and why we are having to close key heritage sites, prized by locals and tourists alike, because Jersey is simply too poor to afford these luxuries. When this starts to happen perhaps public confidence will start to be restored and some politicians will be shamed into working for the working people of Jersey and not against them.
Deputy Montfort Tadier
160, Le Clos des Sables, St Brelade.