Minister responds to Scrutiny Review of Living on Low Income

Friday 21 October 12:07

The Minister for Social Security has lodged a detailed response to a Scrutiny Review that looks at living on low income in Jersey. The report was issued by the Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel, and contained a number of recommendations for the Minister. It also contained recommendations for the Chief Minister and Housing Minister, and the Parishes.

Deputy Susie Pinel said

“I welcome the Scrutiny Panel’s review of this area, which underlines the importance of Jersey’s benefit system in providing a safety net for low-income households in the Island.  

“The Panel has made a number of recommendations that reflect work that has already been undertaken by the Social Security Department, or is planned. The review highlights the importance of customer service to vulnerable groups and the Department has made significant progress in the last year to make the application process easier to understand and quicker to complete.

“The Report also shows the social benefits of helping families achieve financial independence and I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the many concrete steps that we are taking to help low-income households in Jersey. In particular, we continue to help people get people into work, and I’m happy to say that we’re already seeing good results. The 2015 Social Security Annual Report shows that jobless numbers are dropping and fewer children are in low-income households where nobody works.

“We are making long term investments in housing and services, to help those most in need. By 2020, additional investment in Andium Homes will mean that all its homes will meet the decent homes standards, providing better places for people to live; and additional essential investment in health and education, which helps people on lower incomes most, will have been delivered. For example, the Jersey Premium will make a lasting difference to the educational attainment of low-income children, and funding for higher education has been increased to help more families on lower incomes. These add up to a strong statement that Jersey wants to help low-income families, and is willing to invest to do that even when there are challenges to our budget.”

The Review acknowledges the importance of voluntary and Parish-based organisations to support vulnerable families, and all Ministers are fully committed to working with these organisations. In particular, Ministers and officers have worked closely with food banks in the last year, to improve communications and to make sure that volunteers are aware of the range of States services that are available. This ensures they can help their clients get the specialist support they need.

The Panel raises concerns in respect of the cost of GP visits for low income groups. The Department has a commitment within its 2016 business plan to address this area and an ongoing investigation is due to be completed very early next year.

The importance of work incentives within the Income Support system is noted by the Panel and the ministerial response confirms that existing cash limits will allow for improvements in Income Support rates in 2017. This could include improving the incentives currently available.

Other recommendations from the Panel suggest that many of the benefit changes agreed by the States Assembly last year should be reversed. These recommendations cannot be accepted as the changes were designed to improve the simplicity and fairness of the overall Income Support system. Additional funding is available from October 2017 and the value of all components and incentives will be considered before agreeing this allocation.

The Minister added:

“Although I am not able to accept all of the recommendations made in the review, I am pleased to see that the Panel has picked up on some key themes that are central to our own plans. We are constantly improving our customer service in Social Security, and have seen big changes in the last twelve to eighteen months. We work closely with partner agencies and charities, and those relationships inform a lot of our work. The Panel has suggested some policy areas where work is already underway, particularly how we can help families with health costs and what Jersey can do to encourage people to be financially prepared for their retirement.”

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