Guernsey Press

Bid to block benefits rise ends in climbdown

TWO deputies who wanted to put the brakes on potential benefits increases for some of the island’s poorest families were forced into a climbdown in the States.

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New deputy John Dyke and political veteran Deputy David De Lisle attempted to limit a benefits rise for some of the island’s poorest families, but were forced to pull their amendment in the face of strong criticism from other members. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 29027273)

Employment & Social Security was successful in its bid to lift the benefits cap by 5%, which will take 19 families and their 69 children out of poverty.

In total, ESS had identified 55 families with 241 children as living in ‘intolerable poverty’ with parents forced to make a choice between paying rent or buying food.

Deputies John Dyke and David De Lisle had wanted to freeze or restrict the increase in the benefits cap, which caps the total amount of weekly income a family claiming income support can receive, because of the pressures of Covid-19.

Their amendment pointed out that it would give families a maximum support of £44,200 per year, and the island’s median average earnings were ranked at £34,209.

Deputy Dyke said the benefits cap had increased by 13% for this year, and now was not the time for another above-inflation rise.

‘I’m not proposing that we stop increasing the benefits, I’m not proposing that we cut them, I’m proposing that we bear in mind that we live in a real world, there are people out there working normally who expect some control on these figures.

Deputy Dyke said they should not be timid and stymied by old conventional wisdom, and should investigate more targeted support for vulnerable children.

‘Once we get to deal with the most dysfunctional families we have children turning up at school unwashed and poorly dressed, and not well fed, with parents who can’t or won’t, for whatever reason, look after them properly, is it sensible to throw more money at them, will the money really reach the children concerned?’

Deputy Tina Bury, a member of ESS, used her maiden speech to fire off a broadside that the amendment was unbelievable.

‘Those families, often with children, who are deemed to need more are not given it.

‘We leave those families, Guernsey families, Guernsey children, living in our own definition of poverty.

‘I don’t know how that sits with the rest of the Assembly’s definition of Guernsey Together, but it doesn’t sit well with mine.

‘If this amendment passes today, we will leave this chamber having allowed up to 241 children to remain in poverty, that’s according to the August figures.’

Deputy Yvonne Burford also did not hold back and called the amendment grossly offensive and ignorant.

She said it was unfair to penalise children who could not choose how many siblings they had.

‘I’m incredulous that two members of this Assembly think it is a good idea to start trying to plug the financial hole by inflicting a real terms cut in the income of the poorest families on this island.’

‘Forcing children to live in poverty not only demonstrates a total lack of compassion, but it will likely cost society more in the long run.’

Deputies piled in to criticise the amendment, and ‘sensing the mood’ Deputy Dyke stood up to withdraw the amendment so it was annulled.