Enormous public effort had been put into supporting the Care Inquiry while it was gathering evidence and following the publication of its report, a range of committees and task forces had been set to work across many different areas.
Just three weeks later, the Chief Minister’s tone has changed dramatically and he has put the new Chief Executive in direct control of Children’s Services as he now believes the pace of change in the department is too slow.
This change of heart is worrying. What understanding does the Chief Minister have of the actions that are being taken in his name? The issues raised this week are by no means new problems. There is a significant turnover of staff within Children’s services. It is likely to be difficult to recruit staff if senior politicians have embarked on a relentless demonstration of public shame and guilt, repeated to any media outlet that will listen. Inevitably, over time this press interest will fade. Another reason is more intractable. It has been the case for many years that middle grade social workers do not move to Jersey because rents are too high and their partners are restricted in job opportunities. The same problem exists in the recruitment of teachers and nurses.
Government policy over many years has supported property owners and kept property prices high for purchase and rental. Powerful vested interests maintain this position. Whereas most countries provide social housing at discounted rates to low income families, social housing rents in Jersey are virtually indistinguishable from the private sector. The Children’s Commissioner’s idea to increase public sector wage levels for health workers and teachers would just lead to rent inflation in an unregulated market.
Housing laws have also led to many migrant families living in unsuitable conditions. Basic standards have improved recently but the population policy still retains a two tier society with newcomers restricted to ‘unqualified’ accommodation.
If the Chief Minister hopes to create a fair society for children to grow up in, he will need his government to address the unfairness of the housing market.