Guernsey Community Foundation calls for personal tax, pensions and benefits review to be debated as a green paper

 Media Release issued Monday 2 March 2015

The Guernsey Community Foundation has written to all States members calling for their support in having the whole of the Personal Tax, Pensions and Benefits Review debated as a Green Paper to allow for proper time for consultation and research into the impact on vulnerable and less well-off members in Guernsey and Alderney.

Open Letter to States Members

“To Members States of Deliberation, Guernsey

Personal Tax, Pensions and Benefits Review

The Guernsey Community Foundation is calling on the authors of the above report to have the whole of the Review debated as a Green Paper at the March States meeting rather than the proposal announced today to debate only part of it. The decision to debate part of the Review is recognition of the concern expressed of the impact on vulnerable and less well-off groups in the community but does not go far enough.

We have previously met with the authors of the report to highlight our concerns and to propose additional consultation. However their response was to request us to provide comments on a proposition by proposition basis and alternative proposals/amendments.  We did not consider that the short time and limited information made available allowed proper research and consultation to be undertaken. That is why we are calling on all States members to urge the authors to have the whole paper debated as a Green Paper in the first instance.

Whilst the Foundation applauds the courage shown by the authors in highlighting serious long term challenges for the Island and acknowledges the clear need for action to be taken, it is concerned that insufficient time has been given for the necessary level of research and consultation on their proposals.  At first reading it looks likely to impact adversely on the very groups previously identified as being at risk of poverty in Guernsey.

The Foundation has been leading investigations into the level of poverty and need in the Island. This was in response to repeated requests from charitable organisations for research and effective action in the absence of any States led anti-poverty programme. It also coincided with a States debate on the annual health report in 2013 which highlighted a need for fair access to health resources and action to reduce poverty.  The Foundation hosted meetings in 2013 when 150 attendees from States departments, charitable organisations working in this area and a large number of interested States members attended and in 2014 when 50 invited attendees explored real areas of need in Guernsey and how these could be better monitored and met in the future.

The Foundation believes that the proposals in the Review will have major impacts on vulnerable groups which have not been fully researched or identified.  The Foundation has previously offered to fund professional research into the impact of any proposals in the review but was told by the States that this support was not needed as it would be carried out as an integral part of the process.  However we consider that the research in the review is not effective in ascertaining the effect of the proposals on the most vulnerable groups.

We also feel that there has been insufficient consultation before bringing the finalised proposals to the States for determination. These are some of the most far reaching proposals ever to come before a States assembly and it’s vital they take fully informed decisions.

Following a Green Paper debate a period of consultation and reflection would allow far more detailed work to be undertaken. The Foundation is fully committing to playing its part in continuing to work with the States, business and community groups to address the concerns which it acknowledges require significant action in the future.”

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Issued by Sarah Duguid, Guernsey Community Foundation (9-3pm). Tel 748056, email sarah@foundation.gg

Note to Editors

1.     Opportunities for interview

If you wish to speak to Wayne Bulpitt, Chair, GCF on this press release please contact Sarah Duguid at the Guernsey Community Foundation on 748056 to arrange interviews until 3pm or alternatively contact Wayne direct on 711822/07781 103708.

2.     About the Guernsey Community Foundation

The Guernsey Community Foundation has the overriding objective of ‘promoting effective philanthropy’ where philanthropy is defined as the giving of money, time and ideas.

The Foundation is working to build capacity in the voluntary sector by supporting local charities and voluntary organisations as they look to develop their services and to grow. It is actively encouraging and nurturing effective partnerships within the voluntary sector itself and between it, the States of Guernsey and the business sector.

www.foundation.gg

3.     Background briefing on Guernsey Community Foundation and Poverty

The Guernsey Community Foundation has commented publically on the Personal Tax, Pensions and Benefits Review because of its involvement in investigations into the level of poverty and need in the Island. This was stimulated by repeated requests from charitable organisations for research and effective action in the absence of a States led Anti- Poverty Programme coinciding with a States Debate on the Annual Health Report which highlighted a need for fair access to health resources and action to reduce poverty. Two amendments were successful, one to direct the States to investigate a method of measurement of poverty, and one to direct that departments in connection with the comprehensive review of personal taxes, pensions and benefits will, subject to existing resources available to the States, take into account the potential impact on health, well-being and health equity among the population.

The Foundation believes that the proposals in the Review will have major impacts upon vulnerable groups which have not been fully researched or identified. (The Foundation offered to fund research into the impact of proposals in line with the second amendment but was told by the States that this support was not needed as it would be carried out as an integral part of the Review.)

It is considered that the research in the Review is not effective in ascertaining the effect of the proposals on the most vulnerable groups.

It also wishes to highlight that there has been insufficient consultation before bringing the finalised proposals to the States.

The Foundation hosted meetings in 2013 (150 attendees from States departments, charitable organisations working in this area and a large number of interested States members) and in 2014 (50 invited attendees from the first group) to explore real areas of need in Guernsey and how these could be better measured, monitored and met in the future.

Following those meetings the Foundation undertook to explore the meetings findings that the level of poverty in the Island was more extreme than currently recorded. It was keen to identify effective measures of the level of poverty elsewhere which could be applied locally and would be accepted by relevant stakeholders in Guernsey as reliable indicators. It also wanted to know how much people needed to achieve an acceptable living standard in Guernsey. That question and how it is monitored is the key to any future meaningful discussion on need.

The Foundation engaged researchers to report on similar jurisdictions worldwide, their experiences, their methods of reporting and more importantly what they are doing to alleviate poverty. That work was completed in June 2014 and a proposal passed to the States for the measurement and monitoring of poverty in Guernsey on an annual or bi-annual basis.

From the information gathered from the public meetings and the research undertaken the following strategic objectives have been proposed:

    Support people to move out of poverty by strengthening their educational and economic opportunities and their participation in the labour force.
    Protect and enhance the standard of living and quality of life for those unable to participate in the labour force for whatever reason.
    Provide fair and equitable opportunities for Islanders to participate in and contribute to the cultural, economic and social environment of Guernsey.

To achieve those objectives priority needs to be placed on the following areas:

    Increase access to affordable housing
    Improve the Social Benefits System
    Enhance services for persons with disabilities
    Enhancements to early learning
    Improve literacy and support adult learning, training and work
    Increases to minimum wage; index increases
    Change tax policies to assist low income Islanders
    Strengthen mental health and addictions services
    Enhance family supports in such areas as justice services

A Low Income Threshold methodology based on household expenditure levels is considered as the optimum poverty measure for Guernsey. The methodology is simple to apply and while there is some subjectivity in the degree of weightings that are used, it is low as compared to other methodologies. The true cost of poverty in Guernsey should also be measured. This would be invaluable in establishing the cost to the States in the provision of services (education, health, etc.) to those households deemed to be in poverty as compared with the provision of services supplied to an average Guernsey household. This would then provide an incentive to consider as a wise investment the funding of preventative measures both to pull households out of poverty and also prevent households from drifting into poverty.

It is clear that an Anti-Poverty Strategy is not on the current States Agenda. What is needed is some joined up thinking between the States and the Voluntary Sector to obtain up to date information on need that is relevant to Guernsey, to engage with front line staff and volunteers, to listen to concerns and experiences of those in real poverty, to identify areas of need in a social action plan and to act swiftly upon that information. The information gathered in the recent research and the priorities identified by the poverty meetings will assist in creating, developing and delivering an action plan.

Longer term some form of collaborative ‘think tank’ could be formed to re-activate a States led Anti-Poverty Strategy, to measure and monitor need and to propose effective policies, strategies and actions to tackle the areas of poverty and need that exist in the Island. The Guernsey Community Foundation continues to promote this approach with the States, the voluntary sector and interested organisations and individuals.

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