Below are our notes of the questions and answers at the Scrutiny Hearing with the Committee for Employment and Social Security held on Tuesday 22nd March 2022. They are not a comprehensive transcript, please watch the relevant section of the recorded livestream rather than relying on them. Occasional timestamps are included to help with this.
Scrutiny will publish a full Hansard in due course on its webpage: gov.gg/Scrutiny.
Housing was discussed in the first half of the hearing, from 0.37 onwards.
Anti-discrimination legislation was the focus of the second half of the hearing, from 1:11:32 onwards.
Les Genats rebuild could ease affordable housing waiting list (23 Mar, Guernsey Press)
Scrutiny panel members:
- Deputy Yvonne Burford, President of Scrutiny Management Committee
- Deputy Simon Fairclough, SMC
- Deputy John Dyke, SMC
- Mark Huntington, Chief Officer of SMC
- Deputy Bob Murray
- Andrew Le Lievre, ex-member of Social Security, as both an elected Deputy and Non-States Member
For Committee for Employment and Social Security
- Deputy Peter Roffey, President
- Deputy Lindsay De Sausmarez, Vice-President
- Ed Ashton, Director of Operations
- Ellen Pragnell, Committee Secretary
Burford: 1000 social and key worker homes are required, you’ve said you are halfway through, have you found more?
Roffey: Yes. But GHA is blighted by the prospect of the removal of GP11. Developers waiting to see if sites will be more valuable. Looking at some infill sites around existing social housing estates. Handing over Les Genats to GHA. Kenilworth Vinery. Most of Fontaine Vinery. Got a few 10 plots to be getting on with but desperate for extra sites.
Burford: Are there sufficient brownfield sites to meet the 1000?
Roffey: No, need to gain additional sites from private sector. Would love to be able to develop the Castel Hospital sites for affordable housing but P&R say its not top of their list for social housing. Other States owned units are being sold off that would have been good for key worker housing.
Burford: Is there a tension in P&R being responsible for property and you being responsible for housing?
Roffey: Other States committees could have needs for States property so not against P&R being responsible for property but we are slightly frustrated they haven’t prioritised social housing.
Roffey: No objection in principal to GHA taking over all social housing. In theory the States should be able to deliver as well as GHA but States procedures are more laborious. P&R will lose 12m net.
Roffey: I believe there is a cultural wish in Guernsey to be home owners rather than renting. Could extend the range of affordable housing. Starter homes with a covenant under consideration. No decision taken as yet.
Le Lievre: How many families or individuals are on waiting list?
Roffey: 500 if take rental and partial ownership combined. 327 rental, approx 173 partial.
Le Lievre: How long do people have to wait on the list?
Roffey: Partial ownership is three or four years which is why we aren’t promoting it. Social housing less than that but still much longer than previously.
Ashton: Waiting list is split into categories relating to family circumstances and requirements. Allocated on needs basis.
Roffey: One bed ground floor for people with mobility issues is in particularly short supply. Got lots of 3 bed houses, but shortage of 4 and 4+.
Fairclough: Will the redevelopment of Les Genats address that?
Roffey: 80% gain in units planned for Les Genats. Estate will be split into areas with their own character and borders. More one and two bed units.
De Saus: 200 people waiting for a one bed. 73 for two bed.
Roffey: Waiting list is rising. Worsened significantly over last 2 – 2.5 years.
Dyke: Why need 1000 units when only 500 on wait list?
Roffey: The difference is key workers. If could provide key worker housing, would free up the low standard housing that Health are renting for them for the private market (hopefully upgraded).
De Saus: More households are becoming eligible because of current pressures. Also looking to future requirements.
Roffey: Would desperately like to ease the criteria for social housing. Rents have gone up, more people who can’t afford. Haven’t changed criteria because of wait list.
Burford: Pressure from business etc to increase our population. Will we forever be playing catch up?
Roffey: Don’t think can solve our problems with more population. If States do it, hope the States will provide the land and money to cope.
Le Lievre: Les Genats was built when demand was for three beds. Is it a suitable estate in terms of its size for housing single older people?
Roffey: Key worker housing in the maisonettes worked out well. Will be developed in five phases and each one will be its own estate.
De Saus: Not just under-utilisation of housing, also inappropriate use. Example: dining rooms being used as bedrooms.
Le Lievre: How many partial ownership are administered by GHA?
Roffey: Don’t have that figure. Starting to see more people moving from partial to private market – 12 a year.
Le Lievre: Has there ever been a review of efficacy of partial ownership?
Roffey: Always under review in ESS discussions with GHA.
De Saus: Partial ownership scheme hasn’t been around very long.
Le Lievre: Corporate Housing Report said that there would be a review.
Roffey: Have had to prioritise.
Le Lievre: Is partial ownership a realistic alternative to the previous States Homes Scheme?
Roffey: Yes. The funds for a new States Homes Scheme would need to build up over many years.
Le Lievre: Is current States investment in housing sufficient?
Roffey: 1980s crisis was worse than now in some ways. People sleeping in vans. Island had no money, growing sector in decline but they prioritised housing and invested so I continue to make the case for grant funding of sites. GHA should be able to borrow for construction. DPA say there are lots of sites, but then disallow the planning applications on traffic grounds. States could sell houses at cost, without developer fee. Under consideration but hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
Dyke: Change partial ownership limit from 80% to 100%?
De Saus: KPMG report says 100% wouldn’t work.
Burford: Should Housing Action Group continue beyond its one year mandate?
Roffey: Kenilworth Vinery worked, but haven’t had meeting of minds over key worker. Comes a time when committees should just be talking to each other rather than having a working group with officers and a schedule of meetings. Short extension might be worthwhile. Will still get together as Presidents. HAG finds sites, Kenilworth was the only success, Fontaine was already in play. HAG also considers policy issues like incentives to downsize, to develop agreed sites, to develop above shops, rent control.
Burford: What did GP11 save the States at Kenilworth?
Roffey: £1.5 to 2m.
Dyke: Any site suitable for more than 20 houses has to put a proportion to social housing. That must have put prices of houses up.
Roffey: Price of land for development will take GP11 into account.
Dyke: No 20+ developments built since GP11 was introduced. Will you review how you handle it?
Roffey: Larger sites are more complex. Pointes Rocques got turned down for traffic not GP11. Other large sites in the wings but they are holding off because GP11 in question.
Dyke: Pointes Rocques was very densely designed. Extreme opposition to that density. But it was the social housing requirement making the developer crush more in.
Roffey: DPA officers are encouraging dense developments to maximise limited land.
De Saus: It’s transport density not housing density, that’s what puts pressure on infrastructure and residents. People don’t feel safe to walk to the park.
Roffey: Traffic issue, particularly in the North, needs to be tackled head on. GP11 is DPA policy, not ESS. It has wriggle room in it if can be proven that it makes a development unviable. I would prefer to keep it but if it’s going to go, do it quickly to give certainty. But ESS will needs many more millions to develop social housing, without GP11.
Dyke: More private houses takes pressure off social housing.
Roffey: Doesn’t do away with the need because people can’t afford private housing.
Fairclough: Story about homelessness in Guernsey on news. Needs a holistic look. What action is being taken by HAG on emergency housing?
Roffey: ESS doesn’t have a mandate for emergency housing. Health has St Julian’s, there’s other support in private sector eg Sarnia Housing. GHA are interested to do some provision. It does need looking at. But Housing have limited resources so if States want more they will need to give ESS more resources.
Fairclough: Key workers turning down employment because of housing cost. What can benefits system do?
Roffey: Not a benefits issue, that’s key worker housing. Key workers can’t afford to pay 60-70% of their income on housing. They aren’t all 21 and wanting to live above a shop.
Fairclough: You’ve suspended income limits for social housing. Can earn freely without putting tenancy at risk. You said that was an interim measure, has it been successful?
Roffey: Believe yes, anecdotally. But there has to be some kind of limit to exclude high earners who could afford private rental. Difficult balancing act. Due a paper on it by end of year because that’s when the suspension ends.
Le Lievre: What happens to those tenants who have permanently improved their circumstances? Will they be cast out into the private sector?
Roffey: Personal view, new limits will need to be more liberal to accommodate people who have taken on extra hours. And if outside of that, we allow a year to find somewhere, it’s not immediate.
Ashton: Policy is due Q2.
1:03:00: Break called.
1:11:32: Hearing resumed.
Murray: What work has the committee undertaken to determine the incidence of discrimination?
Roffey: Find it extraordinary that in some quarters they find this cutting edge. Guernsey is at the back of pack. Difficult to measure the amount of discrimination in the absence of remedies. Citizens Advice can say how many complaints they have received but people don’t come forward where there’s no remedy. If the level is low then island has nothing to fear. If there is a significant level, then it is States duty to meet international conventions. All the leading employer groups have said the proposals we are putting forward now are sound which suggests they are proportionate.
Murray: So you aren’t really sure of incidence?
Roffey: Not possible to be sure. Jersey had an early burst of cases and it settled down. It not intended to have a lot of tribunals, it’s to have a cultural change so that tribunals aren’t needed.
Pragnell: The experience of discrimination is in section 3.4 of the policy letter from July 2020. This was debated before you were in the States. Personal examples in GDA report. Disability needs survey indicated that 1 in 5 people in Guernsey had a disability.
Murray: That report said not many people would consider these things a disability. 783 was extrapolated to the population so 14,000 people in Guernsey is shaky.
Roffey: In line with other Western countries. Not just wheelchair users.
Murray: How many are receiving disability allowance?
Roffey: That’s for severe disability. 800 claims. De Saus: Plus 950 on long-term sickness.
Murray: That’s much less than 14,000.
Roffey. Exactly. Most are people in the workforce, that’s why the legislation is imperative.
Murray: Deputy Falla commented on GPEG suggestion that employers would need to find 250k a year to implement. He did not expect that level of cost. But then said it wasn’t about cost. What research have you done on cost to business?
Roffey: GPEG have taken a perversely negative view of this legislation. Cost to employers will be low as won’t be expected to do anything that’s not proportionate. We were asked to do a study but the results wouldn’t have been believed or influenced the outcome. Larger jurisdictions have done studies that show more gains than costs. Proportionality is shot through this legislation. All sorts of false stories being circulated. This law is similar to Jersey and I’m not picking up signs of damage in Jersey.
Murray: So we are assuming it will be similar to another jurisdiction. My concern is that our law will have no case law.
Roffey: Can I correct that. Our law is similar enough to use case law from UK.
Murray: Why not accept Jersey legislation?
Roffey: Our is v similar but Jersey don’t protect carers. This is not the first draft anymore, the novel features have largely been removed. Akin to Jersey and UK.
Dyke: Our definition covers everyone in Guernsey, could define every single person in Guernsey as disabled. Jersey is different. The other Sword of Damocles is the eye-watering penalties and claims for damages.
Roffey: Our damages are in line with UK. Will look up Jersey. Urban myth that everyone will be able to claim protected grounds of disability. Not the case. And even if they were, it’s only when discrimination has taken place on the grounds of disability that you can claim.
Murray: In July 2020, Deputy Trott commented that equal pay for equal value work would add a staggering £50m.
Roffey: He conflated two issues. Equal pay for equal value isn’t in the proposals in this political term. In last term P&R made commitment to nursing unions etc. That’s a separate pledge not related to this legislation. The £50m assumes that pay for low paid will go up but pay for over paid won’t go down. That’s unsustainable. So Trott was talking moonshine.
Pragnell: Equal pay for work of equal value will be a completely separate policy letter in the next States term and only in relation to sex.
Roffey: Reason business groups have changed their stance is because law is much closer to UK/Jersey now. We will produce leaflet to show how it differs. Can’t assume that ESS will bring back socially avant garde proposals for the latter phases, age discrimination etc. We’re conscious of costs.
Murray: GFSC gave a quite extensive critique. Shouldn’t the law be delayed while their concerns are considered?
Roffey: We will be reviewing all the responses to the technical consultation, starting tomorrow. I will be meeting with business groups to understand their concerns. We are genuinely open minded. If there’s a wrinkle we can iron out great. Not going to go for an expensive study. If there are employers who are discriminating now, yes, the legislation will have some impact, that’s the intention.
Burford: The G4 are calling for a delay, what’s your response?
Roffey: Don’t understand why necessary but open-minded. So long as there is a guaranteed date when it will come in then willing to listen, although have to balance with the civil groups who have campaigned for so long.
Burford: GPEG commissioned Jersey law firm who said this would significantly impact small businesses which are 64% of Guernsey’s workforce. Do you accept that analysis?
Roffey: Not really, proportionality is the heart of this legislation. Jersey also has a plethora of small employers who live with similar legislation.
De Saus: Small business will be expected to do less.
Pragnell: Training and guidance notes will be prepared which will help small business with no HR dept.
Roffey: Conciliation first to avoid tribunals. I don’t accept much that GPEG says. They say they are a think tank but they seem to be a pressure group. A pressure group that doesn’t reflect what employers are thinking.
Burford: Last term States rejected proposal to extend religious belief to religion AND belief. Why didn’t ESS have religion and belief in the original policy, why try to add by amendment?
Pragnell: Religious belief was added by Dep Parkinson by amendment, not by the committee, based on a previous list of grounds that has been superceded. Wasn’t meant to be in phase one.
Burford: Do you regret basing your original proposals on Ireland?
Roffey: Wasn’t part of that decision. Yes, probably, would have been less painful. Laudable intentions, Guernsey wasn’t ready for them.
Dyke: You’ve dismissed the comments of GPEG but other large firms in the finance sector have emphasised that Guernsey must be competitive. Business can move at the drop of a hat. Question mark over proportionality eg maximum claims which could be very significant even for large firms. Broad definition of disability. Could you undertake to look at those points before bringing the legislation forward?
Roffey: We need to look at what has been decided as policy by the States, legislation must reflect that, although States can amend on the floor of the house. We have drafting instructions we need to follow. Six months pay is the max which is in line with unfair dismissal.
Dyke: Jersey caps damages for pain and suffering.
Roffey: Jersey max is £5k, Guernsey is up to £10k.
Pragnell: Injury to feelings would have to be egregious and repeated to reach 10k. Sliding scale.
Dyke: Six months salary is high versus Jersey cap. If you would look at that.
Roffey: We aren’t free to vary from drafting instructions. But will look at it. Very few of Guernsey’s competitors don’t have similar legislation. We are a late adopter.
Fairclough: Given increases in cost of living, do Guernsey public need to accept that support for people in need of assistance will need to rise?
Roffey: Expecting an RPIX rise in November this year, which will be a higher percentage than recent years.
Fariclough: But will that change come in time?
Roffey: Might have to look at an interim measure but would have to be extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes inflation goes down after the rise is implemented.
Fairclough: Is basket of goods still best way of measuring?
Roffey: Recent Minimum Income Standard Review will inform changes. Won’t always be perfect.
Murray: During the 80s, salaries at my firm had to be reviewed six-monthly. Ukraine crisis will exacerbate.
Roffey: If there is an absolute historical spike, would look at it. But would be an administrative challenge. When inflation is single figure, the cost of administration would be too great.
Le Lievre: Tax Review proposes to restructure social security contributions. But reaction to GST makes clear the Review won’t be coming for debate in July or won’t pass. What are the alternative plans to make contributions fairer?
Roffey: Can only afford to make changes as part of a package, unless we put headline figure for contributions up to an enormous amount. Currently have a very low threshold above which you pay social security and once you cross that threshold you pay on all of your income, not just the additional income. V harsh on low earners. If GST rejected, funds could come from other elements in the Tax Review.
Pragnell: Without raising any more income, to do the restructure would mean having to raise the combined employer/employee rate from 13.5% to 15.5%. To make pensions and long term care sustainable, would need to go up further to 18%.
Roffey: That would impact our competitiveness. States have already agreed to the pensions/LTC increase, in increments over next ten years. Far from the optimal solution.
Le Lievre: Can the percentages be turned into costs?
Roffey: 2% of £100k is £2k. Someone on £20k might find themselves better off because of the threshold changes. Would be difficult to get through the States.
Le Lievre: How much would it cost the States?
Roffey: For States as employer it would be fairly significant. To be honest, can’t do the re-structure without some kind of increase in tax. But could do something smaller.
Le Lievre: What will the impact be on Social Security of ageing demographic?
Roffey: Absolutely graphic. Even with putting up pension age, the spending is going up steeply. One of the reasons for the Tax Review.
Le Lievre: Do you believe the voice of pensioners is heard in the States?
Roffey: At election time, yes. I try to be a voice for pensioners. But also have to think of the burden on younger people of paying into the long-term care find. Balance.
Burford: Do you consider a minimum wage of £9.05 is sufficient?
Roffey: States have told us to move the minimum wage to 60% of average earnings over a five years period. There was a hiatus during lockdown, wanted to protect jobs. Should have pushed it a bit more last year. Rate is not meant to be enough to avoid benefits.
Burford: Do you have figures to show how much the taxpayer is subsidising employers?
Roffey: Not really fair, perjorative. Two people could be getting the same pay from employer but have very different home circumstances that lead to them needing/not needing a top-up. Income support is there for a reason. Idea of wanting no-one to ever need Income Support is wrong.
Burford: Next hearing is 8th April with Environment and Infrastructure.
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