Policy Centre Jersey discussion meeting on housing and social mobility, 29 September 2023
On 29 September 2023 the Policy Centre held a discussion meeting based around its report Housing and Social Mobility in Jersey .
Sir Mark Boleat, Senior Adviser to the Centre and Chair of the steering group overseeing the social mobility project, opened the meeting by summarising the report. Kate Wright, Vice Chair of the Centre’s Advisory Council, commented on work done on social mobility in Jersey generally and Michael Van Neste, former Chair of the Jersey Homes Trust, commented on the housing situation generally and the role of social housing in Jersey. Following the presentations there was an open discussion. 30 people attended the meeting – members of the Council’s Advisory Committee and invited guests from business, the charity sector and the States Assembly.
Summary of comments by Sir Mark Boleat
- Social mobility refers to the change in a person’s socioeconomic situation either in relation to their parents or throughout their lifetime.
- Housing is not generally regarded as an important factor in determining social mobility but it is in Jersey because of the very high level of house prices and the fact that people do not have the option of living some distance from their work.
- In the UK the children of homeowners are more likely to be homeowners themselves, a trend that has accelerated because of the rise in house prices.
- Between 2000 and 2022 house prices in Jersey rose by 40% in real terms and average house prices are higher than in London by 25%.
- In Jersey many low paid people are well housed by social housing providers and the very highly paid can afford to pay for housing themselves. But there is a large group in the middle who can only become homeowners with some assistance. They can be subdivided into those with help from the Bank of Mum and Dad and those without.
- Homeowners are far more likely to be part of the Bank of Mum and Dad. In a recent survey 14% of homeowners said they found it difficult to cope financially compared with 46% of social housing tenants and 34% of private tenants.
- Income inequality in Jersey is lower than in all but two European countries and the housing effect totally counteracts the beneficial effects on income equality of the tax and benefit system.
- There are two broad approaches to tackling the issue - seeking to reduce the price of housing and seeking to redistribute the benefits of the increase in house prices.
- A significant obstacle to anything being done is the voting pattern. In the 2022 General Election 57% of those over 64 and 41% of homeowners voted compared with 17% of the under-35s and 16% of tenants.
Summary of comments by Kate Wright
- There is little research in Jersey on social mobility.
- The Jersey Community Relations Trust (JCRT) published its Social Mobility Report in 2019. This concluded that education was important in closing the social mobility gap. To close the gap the report recommended –
- ~Optimum use of resources in education.
- ~Government working more closely with employers.
- ~Education equipping young people for the world of work.
- ~Embracing diversity and inclusion in education.
- ~Better support for those children whose first language is not English and mental health provision – but recognition that there has recently been progress in this respect.
- ~Perceptions of potential are too closely linked to academic attainment.
- ~Highlands plays a major role in closing the social mobility gap and needs more support. There is huge snobbery in Jersey in relation to schools.
- ~Work experience schemes can help close the social mobility gap but they are limited.
- A more recent small piece of research linked to diversity showed the need to support all age groups and for a more developed work experience and mentoring programme.
- JCRT published Poverty in Jersey in 2023. 20% of people earn less than £22,000 a year and a particular concern is the migrant community with less than five years residency.
Summary of comments by Michael Van Neste
- The lack of housing in Jersey is the reason for poverty in the Island. The only way to eliminate poverty in Jersey is to build more homes.
- The lopsided economy has led to a stratification of society – finance and related sectors pay their employees well, enabling them to be well housed and their children to be well educated. They have put the price of housing beyond the rest of the community.
- Access to social housing is generally available to younger people only if they have children, which encourages irresponsible parenthood. Children born in that situation do not have the same life chances as those born to wealthier people.
- The number of homes per head of population in Jersey is lower than in the UK and in other countries.
- It is more difficult to attract people to work in Jersey because of the housing situation. Anyone in gainful employment should have the right to rent a property. We have discriminated against a whole section of our economy that we need.
- We have deliberately restricted the supply of housing as a means of controlling immigration. It has failed and has had a dreadful outcome for ordinary Jersey people.
- There is a great deal of involuntary sharing in Jersey.
- Schemes that assist people to buy homes can be ineffective – helping one person buy a home prevents another from doing so.
Comments in open discussion
- The new housing initiative to help people buy homes is designed to help middle income people become homeowners. The scheme aims to stimulate activity in the market.
- There is a major house building programme – Andium will deliver 3,000 homes by 2030.
- The data on the Housing Gateway is not accurate; as a result it has been possible to open up the Gateway.
- Social housing should be a stepping stone to home ownership.
- There has always been a clash between the need for more housing and “keeping Jersey pretty”.
- Income inequality figures can be misleading. Increasing income of low-income people reduces the income inequality figure. Reducing their costs by the same amount does not.
- Many people in Jersey are struggling – particularly people without five years’ residency in low paid jobs.
- There is a need in Jersey for a focus on equalities – responsibility in government is currently divided. There is a need for an equalities minister to help reduce the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. The recent reduction in the cost of GP visits did not benefit the least well off.
- When a tenant buys a house, it releases another property for rental.
- Many people do not want to keep progressing up the housing market. There is need to promote mobility throughout the market.
- The tax system in Jersey encourages investment in housing and therefore increases house prices. In the UK people can have tax free savings through ISAs.
- Schemes that help a small number of people pay high house prices help those people; trying to help a large number increases prices.
- Can housing be treated as infrastructure and the Rainy Day Fund be used?
- There is a structural problem with the parishes having substantial power which leads to all building being in St Helier.
- There is more funding going to help those without English as a first language, both in respect of education and employment. This helps social mobility.
- There has been a great deal of investment in education in recent years but more needs to be done in the post-16 area, and particularly to help the most disadvantaged access the employment market.
- We need to offer a better higher education provision in Jersey. Many people cannot afford to go off-island to university.