As Minister for Social Security my priorities are to ensure that the department can meet the needs of an ever changing population, to stress that work pays and to introduce policies that promote fairness and financial independence.
As with every department we are trying to do more with less. An aging population and budget cuts mean sustainability and efficiency are central to every decision I make. From policies to workplace culture, there have been dramatic shifts in practice across the department. As a result, I strongly believe we are better placed than ever to help people achieve and maintain financial independence whilst providing social benefits to those who are not able, for one reason or another, to support themselves.
People might be surprised by the wide range of services and support that we provide, ranging from a Health and Safety Inspectorate to dealing with a pension fund of £1.2 billion. Jersey pensions are managed and distributed world-wide. We are also responsible for the 65+ Healthcare Scheme and the Health Insurance Fund which provides GP visit subsidies and community pharmaceuticals. There have also been big changes in forming the recently introduced Long Term Care Fund.
Other responsibilities include the wide range of benefits under Income Support; the administration of sickness and disability benefits; Employment and Discrimination law; medical boards, employment and medical tribunals; supporting and funding JACS (Jersey Advisory and Conciliation Service) and JET (Jersey Employment Trust) and of course, the daily service to our clients in La Motte Street.
As readers will be aware, the Social Security Department has been asked by the States, to find £10m worth of savings as part of the overall £145m savings package of the MTFP (Medium Term Financial Plan). This has been an extremely difficult challenge for the department. No cuts to benefits are ever easy or popular. We have had to balance the need for savings with maintaining an essential safety net, but ensuring there is motivation to find work where individuals can work.
I have always supported the introduction of family friendly rights and am extremely proud of the long overdue progress that we have made in this area. Protection against sex discrimination came into force on 1 September along with employment rights for pregnant women and new parents. I think that the most important change that we are introducing as part of this package is the right for a woman to return to the same job after her statutory maternity leave. This clearly helps women to maintain their skills and future earnings, but it’s also good for business – to keep those valuable skills in the workplace.
As well as improving the rights of employees, I am committed to tackling unemployment. We must ensure that people recognise that they are better off in paid work, not just financially but in terms of their emotional wellbeing. Alongside initiatives to support those actively seeking work we have also increased our ability to issue sanctions so that for jobseekers who fail to do enough to find work or leave work without a good reason, there are consequences.
Recently, we have increased our emphasis on working with employers and looking for areas where Back to Work can benefit the community. The Community Jobs fund which creates community-based jobs for long term unemployed jobseekers has matched around 120 candidates to roles in 75 organisations and departments. This has provided jobseekers with valuable skills and experience and has also helped those organisations to carry out projects that would otherwise have not been possible.
I believe that through Back to Work and the changes to employment law that the department have introduced, we are making an extremely positive contribution towards Jersey’s economic growth, not just by attracting and maintaining a highly skilled workforce but as importantly, by looking after the needs of businesses and individuals so that Jersey continues to be a desirable place to live and work.
As a department, we are continuing to develop the Discrimination Law with Age to be introduced as the next characteristic in 2016 and Disability in 2017/8. A review of the Social Security Fund (Pension Fund) will start at the end of this year. So no room for complacency!
As Minister for Social Security, I am very grateful for my 3 year ‘apprenticeship’ as Assistant Minister for the Department and to be able to work with such a dedicated and professional team. I must also take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my Assistant Minister, Deputy Graham Truscott, for his on going help and support. Being part of Jersey’s Government is an enormous responsibility, which I take very seriously, a huge challenge and most of all, an enormous privilege.