States needs to grasp the nettle and decide on population policy

A FOCUSED debate on the island’s population figure is needed, a senior politician has said, amid signs of a worsening housing crisis with a growing number of people struggling to find anywhere to live.

Deputy Peter Roffey. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29371860)
Deputy Peter Roffey. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29371860)

The waiting list for social housing is climbing, estate agents have reported that the market is tighter than ever, and some deputies are receiving dozens of desperate phone calls every week.

Employment & Social Security president Peter Roffey has made repeated calls during States debates for Policy & Resources to develop a population policy for the Assembly to make a decision.

He said the lack of one was a black hole in overall government planning.

‘I don’t want us to go to 70,000 or 75,000, it’s not my image of Guernsey, but I know there are others that would be happy to see that.

‘How on earth can we plan for everything from water, sewage disposal, and housing, if we don’t know how many people we will be catering for?

‘It’s the elephant in the room that everyone is conveniently ignoring, and I keep trying to say “look there’s an elephant over there” and people respond that yes there is, but then carry on as if it wasn’t there.’

At the end of June last year, the island had just over 63,000 residents and leading politicians have indicated they want to increase the younger working population to stimulate the economy, increase the tax take, and help the demographic challenges.

It is a policy that Jersey has adopted and it has seen a boom in its population.

While Deputy Roffey accepted that relaxing the migration controls could help the shrinking workforce and government revenues in the short-term, he was unconvinced that it was a sustainable option.

‘I am keen not to see any very large population growth for reasons of infrastructure, quality of life, over-development, we’ve got a housing crisis already and it’s obviously going to be aggravated if we have thousands more people here.

‘Even if I lose out in that argument, at least if the States decides where they want to go, we can plan for it in terms of infrastructure, how many new houses we’ll need, and to some extent it also impacts on the financial projections that P&R have just put out.’

Guernsey’s population is getting progressively older, and the demographic time bomb is starting to go off. It means that a smaller percentage are working and paying taxes that fund pensions, healthcare, nursing homes and schools.

For Deputy Roffey, part of the solution would be to up-skill islanders and have an anti-discrimination law.

‘If we want the biggest possible workforce within our population, it’s crucial to look at everybody that lives in Guernsey and ask what can they provide, rather than what can’t they provide, and that’s particularly true of people with disabilities.

‘If people can only work certain hours or do certain tasks, or if they need an adapted workplace, we’d be stupid not to tap into their talents because in future I think unemployment will be less of a problem than skills shortages.’

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