New survey highlights Islanders’ financial struggles

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MANY Islanders say they are ‘struggling to afford to live’ in Jersey as the cost of living bites, the first public-health consultation of its kind has revealed.

The survey identified the crisis as having the greatest negative effect on the health and wellbeing of Islanders, who called on the government to do more to help them.

The results of Jersey’s Big Health and Wellbeing Conversation – conducted on 10 October, Mental Health Day, and in the following week – are set out in the first annual report from Public Health director Professor Peter Bradley, which will be used to help form a new health strategy.

Public health director Peter Bradley Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35160226)

It highlighted dissatisfaction with the government’s response to mitigating the impact of rising prices, particularly among those with lower incomes. The report states: ‘The Islanders we spoke to have called for the government of Jersey to intervene in the cost-of-living crisis by reducing income tax and removing GST on food and essential products, for example.

‘Islanders wanted support to access healthcare, notably by reducing the cost of visiting GPs and [other] health professionals. Many would like more support from government, whether they receive income support or not.’

The conversation involved 18 in-person group sessions with local organisations, schools and charities, 22 in-person sessions with people around the Island, engagement with 25 charities, businesses, churches and community groups, 30 volunteers and more than 1,000 interactions with individuals.

Some respondents also expressed concern about what they described as the ‘poor’ support available for those with drug addiction problems, and some suggested the situation was compounded by drug use among middle-class professionals with some mentioning ‘drugs being an issue in workplaces and banks’.

Islanders were responding to three questions either face to face or in written responses. The consultation posed the questions:

– What helps you stay healthy?

– What things have a negative effect on health and wellbeing?

– And how can government help?

Commenting on the consultation, Professor Bradley said: ‘The importance of hearing from Islanders is engrained within the role of the director of Public Health; it allows us to understand from the people themselves which issues they feel most affect their lives.

‘Having the evidence of what people need to support their health and wellbeing allows us to effectively engage with communities to address these issues. This is why the results of this event are so important and why we have decided to focus on them within this, our first, annual report,’ he added.

The report notes that there was a great deal of consensus among Islanders when discussing things which adversely affected their health, including alcohol, smoking and poor food. Many comments related to issues respondents thought were within the scope of the government to improve – for example, intervening to support access to healthy food, whether through reducing the impact of the cost of living, lowering taxes or removing GST from food.

Islanders also suggested that the government should improve the provision of accommodation for all, including the non-qualified, and some raised concerns over the lack of childcare and socialising opportunities for teenagers.

Among the recommendations they made were:

– Reducing or removing charges for appointments with doctors.

– Increasing financial support for those in need.

– Cheaper rents and greater pressure on landlords to maintain the condition of rented property.

– Increased social-security contributions from higher earners.

– Islanders also wanted to see cheaper access to exercise facilities and better leisure facilities.

One respondent said: ‘Property development companies are favoured over leisure facilities. If this is not addressed, the mental and physical health of the young people in Jersey will suffer and they will leave the Island in droves.’

In addition, Islanders wanted clearer signposting of government services and support, and improvements to the transport system, encompassing a more frequent bus service and measures to promote cycling, but some also wanted improved car parks to increase the quality of life in St Helier.

Subsidies for electric bikes, announced last month by Environment Assistant Minister Hilary Jeune, also featured in some of the comments.

Professor Bradley said that views expressed by Islanders were being used to support development of the department’s new Public Health Strategy.

Health Minister Karen Wilson . Picture: JON GUEGAN. (35160230)

Health Minister Karen Wilson welcomed the publication of Jersey’s first Director of Public Health Annual Report, which she said provided valuable insight into how Islanders viewed their health.

‘I would like to thank all of those who took the time to speak to us. The information provided by respondents gives the team the evidence to improve the health for our Islanders now and in the future,’ she said.

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