A very poor show for the less well-off

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People in Jersey are well known for their generosity towards the less fortunate, whether it is through charity work, financial donations or simply keeping a friendly eye on neighbours, so I know I am not the only one who reacted with genuine and profound shock on discovering that the new Income Support system, so proudly and confidently touted as the catch-all in the wake of the introduction of GST, has apparently been so appallingly handled.

Tales of huge overpayments and intractable bureaucracy are bad enough, but shock waves have been sent through the whole Island community by the fact that those who were relying on the new system to ensure that they could continue to provide for themselves and their families have been so badly let down, and the utterly horrific news that an elderly person had been dead in his home for weeks and that his death was not known because those who should have been keeping an eye on him had failed abysmally.

In times past, the Victorian method of dispensing money to the ‘deserving poor’ meant that the applicant had to go cap in hand, quite literally sometimes, to ask the parish authorities for support. Tales were rife of the degrading manner in which largesse was distributed, or otherwise. But in 2009, we expect much better from those charged with the task of ensuring the well-being of those who need help.

The report on the failure of the new system which was prepared by former welfare staff at the Town Hall was, according to the story in the JEP, leaked anonymously. Thank goodness whoever leaked it did so, for the state of affairs it revealed cannot be ignored.

I have a lot of sympathy for the new Social Security Minister, Dep-uty Ian Gorst, who has been thrown in at the deepest end of what appears to be a very murky pool. I suspect that he will have his work cut out in establishing just how this state of affairs came about.

The Town Constable has said that he is minded to seize back control of the welfare system, which was run, it would seem, by caring and competent staff in St Helier. Whether that route is taken or not, Simon Crowcroft seems to be a man with a safe pair of hands, and I sincerely hope that he will, at the very least, be involved in sorting out the disgraceful mess that has been uncovered at the Social Security department.

.IT made a very pleasant change to hear good news about Jersey’s agriculture industry amid all the doom and gloom which currently permeates the Island.

I refer to the millions being invested by two companies — Jersey Royal Ltd and the Scottish-based company Albert Bartlett (Jersey) Ltd — in the business of exporting Jersey Royal potatoes. Both companies are about to open new purpose-built packing sheds (which they call packhouses) so that they can export large quantities of Jersey Royals.

The industry has suffered a slump in recent times and, just as has happened with our now all but defunct tomato industry, growers of our famous spud seem to have been dropping out of the industry for years.

So it is heartening to hear that at least two former potato growers have returned from retirement to the industry, so enthusiastic are they about the huge investments being made.

It is really good news, not just for those of us who grew up surrounded by fields and fields of potatoes, but also for those of us who love the countryside and are concerned about the use to which those empty fields might be put if they are no longer used for growing. I wish all involved a very happy and prosperous return — in both senses of the word.

I NOTE that one of my occasional critics, Barrie Bertram, has written to the JEP about my recent comments on redundancy money for the staff at Woolies.

Setting aside his somewhat uncalled-for suggestion that my comment was calvados-fuelled, I said that in my opinion, if the Woolworths shop in Jersey was regarded as part of the UK chain, the staff should receive financial recompense, as has happened with their colleagues in the UK. If the shop was a franchise run by local management, the former employees would get nothing.

My reference to the TA, which we support here as our contribution to British defence, was to illustrate the fact that despite there being no good news for the former Woolworths employees, we are playing our part, and will no doubt continue to do so, in the defence of the realm.

And I still have no idea whether Woolies was a franchise or part of the mainland chain.

AND finally . . . As if those of us who live here don’t already have to pay considerably higher prices for our utility bills than residents of so many other countries, we now have an additional 24 per cent increase in electricity prices to deal with.

When the elderly and less well-off are too scared to heat more than one room in cold weather because they fear they will not be able to pay the bill, it must surely behove our elected representatives, at the very least, to take a long, hard look at the Jersey Electricity Company’s price rises, given the financial circumstances that currently prevail.

It is rather embarrassing that it has taken the concerns of a former politician, Lyndon Farnham, to highlight the situation, but since the JEC’s chief executive, Chris Ambler, has stated that he would welcome a review, perhaps our current lot in the States will do something about organising it.

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