JERSEY’s public sector must play its part in helping close the ‘stark’ gap between those with enormous wealth and those struggling with everyday living expenses, the government’s chief executive has said.
Suzanne Wylie was speaking on the anniversary of her arrival in Jersey from Belfast, and following publication of the latest in a succession of reports drawing attention to the impact of inequality on public health.
She said: ‘Lack of equality in Belfast was a huge, huge issue. And even in one city, [among] different parts of the city and different communities, there was a huge effort to improve equality. I think coming here and seeing some of those inequalities that exist here, you’re right in terms of what the reports have said. I think that it is quite stark to see.
‘It is something that this government is alive to and clearly wants to do something about it,’ Mrs Wylie said, adding that civil servants had worked with the new government on targetting support as rapidly as possible to those who most needed it in measures announced in September’s mini-budget.
Asked whether social inequality was more evident in Jersey than in Belfast – where Mrs Wylie’s career in the public sector had previously been spent – she replied: ‘No, no, it’s not necessarily worse but really what we’re talking about here is the gap.
‘Of course, there is enormous wealth on this island, and then there’s the people who are struggling in terms of their everyday living expenses, so it’s that gap. That’s quite evident and that’s what we need to try and close. And I think you will see the government having a focus on that.’
Her comments follow publication this week of the Jersey Health Profile and, the previous week, of the first annual report by Public Health director Professor Peter Bradley, which echoed similar comments on widening inequality made in the independent report last year into the Island’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the key findings from the latest report were that Jersey had become less equal over time in terms of net income after housing costs, that inequalities ‘may be widening’ and that this was ‘likely to be having an impact on health and wellbeing’. It stated that 24% of households were in relative low income after housing costs, ranging from 8% of couples with no children to 55% of one-parent families.
Mrs Wylie highlighted other issues, particularly within St Helier, where many of the inequalities were most evident.
‘The government has some clear decisions to make around what does it invest in to try and address some of those inequalities. So I think you will see some things in relation to things like school estate, in terms of housing, in terms of how we take forward the affordability issue with housing going forward as well. And, obviously, how we look at work and skills development too on the Island,’ she said.
She also highlighted other issues to emerge from the health data, including the limited access to public space among some children attending schools in St Helier.