Guernsey Press

Is Jernsey the future?

Horace Camp ponders some potential solutions to the looming demographic time bomb, from growing our population, or increasing retirement ages to joining forces with Jersey

Jersey and Guernsey - Flag handshake symbolizing partnership and cooperation (32068244)

ON OUR gloriously sunny May Day my daughter, who is recovering from a badly broken ankle, raced me around Old Farm in a clash of mobility scooters which even Clarkson wouldn’t be able to better for comic effect. When the tournament was over and while our adrenaline was recovering to normal levels after the 8mph duel in the sun, I asked her why I was so misunderstood.

‘It’s because you’re not normal, Dad.’

She is, of course, as she is in most things, absolutely correct. On the day when brains were handed out, I think mine was dropped, picked up with no one noticing, rubbed down with an old cloth and put back on the production line rather than tossed onto the seconds pile. And because of that, my red isn’t the red you see and my take on things seems to be not how others take those things.

My learning style, for instance, is akin to Asdic, which is the first problem. Asdic? I probably should have used sonar instead as more people are familiar with sonar. Or better still, radar? Or even better, bat radar, which most will understand. But I probably would mess that up by using ‘echolocation’ and confuse the hell out of everyone.

Back to sonar. If I don’t know something or need more information about something I ask a question in the form of a provocative statement, which is the ‘ping’ I send through the water. When it hits someone, they respond with a ‘pong’. I analyse the ‘pong’ and add its content to my poor old battered brain.

Bit by bit, I build up a database of views from all sides of an argument. Let’s say I ping the statement/question, ‘Racism can’t be all bad?’. You note that I have not declared any view that I may have personally on racism. When the pings return they will range from, ‘So, you’re a racist now, Horace?’ to ‘Yes, you are so right, brother welcome to the Klan’. As this noise feeds into my addled grey matter, I slowly get to understand racism and how others perceive it.

After myriad tweets, I will eventually announce ‘Racism in most instances is bad’. This is now my view. Instantly my timeline – if you are over 70, ask your grandchildren about ‘timeline’ – will fill with ‘Changing your tune now, eh?’ from both racists and non-racists.

Now you know a little about the workings of my mind, I will tell you about how my attempt to gather more information on how our economy works now and the threats facing it to get some idea of what we should be doing going forward. This to especially test if the answer is to keep growing the population by bringing young workers in to keep the retiring Boomers from starving on the streets.

We hear demographic time bomb all the time. We have proof of the problems ahead because we don’t have enough 16- to 64-year-olds to pay for the upkeep and care of everyone who on their 65th birthday suddenly becomes totally dependent on the taxpayer.

First of all, how many 16-year-olds are paying for their own upkeep, let alone the upkeep of others? Many won’t contribute anything until they are 21. And why are 65-year-olds so incapable of fending for themselves? In Japan, with a worse demographic time-bomb, nearly a third of all workers are over 65.

Guernsey Police find it hard to hire officers and is adopting population increase to recruit. In Japan, 10% of their police officers are over 65 and I bet a goodly percentage are over our police retirement age of 55. Perhaps we could use the people we’ve got for longer? It’s probably the same for nurses, teachers and civil servants. Has anyone investigated the impact of those fit and healthy enough to work into their seventies on mitigating the dependency ratio?

Why base our community’s future on the premise that everyone over 65 is a burden on the state? Our chief minister suggested that 50% of retirees have income of at least double the States pension. Would an old person in their fully-paid-for, million-pound house on £22,000 a year need a 16-year-old to be imported to generate the tax needed to keep them out of the food banks?

And what if we discover that the entire problem was caused by growing our population in the first place? When there were 20,000 fewer of us, we were far more capable of staffing schools, the hospital, the civil service and the police with islanders. Are we short of nurses because we need more people to nurse the extra people brought in to care for us? Is it a Ponzi scheme?

The BBC Archive released a 1960s clip with residents of Guernsey and Jersey being asked to criticise each other. The three donkeys all sounded Guernsey. The three crapauds were obviously just flown in from the Home Counties. But the telling comment was how different we are to them. Jersey was over-commercialised, a polite way of saying it’s all about money over there. We were more into the quality of life than our bank balance.

A fellow columnist believes that our only hope for the future is Jernsey, a Channel Islands union. My answer to that was ‘Over my cold dead body’. But perhaps he is correct. I’m told 53% of us were born here and I think Jersey has now tipped into island-born residents being in the minority. Jernsey may be the future that the new majority, who probably could have chosen either island to live in and see little difference between them, will prefer because they share a common love of money.

I don’t know which path we should take but I would like to see some options. Where is the data on how many over-65s cannot support themselves? Or the data that adding 4,000 to our population, plus dependants, to service our hospitality and retail needs has not added to our problems? Once chips from Franks on a Friday night satisfied us but now tiny portions of weird food served on roof tiles at astronomical prices is de rigueur.

Before we look at taxes, population, housing and education, should we first decide if any remnants of the Guernsey way of life are worth retaining? Are we really now a place where fit and healthy retirees are saying ‘Damned if I will work anymore when youngsters can be brought in to pay tax to keep me’?

I saw none of these questions or any of the data presented with the GST proposals. Perhaps Jersey as the Hong Kong of the Channel, with us providing the guest workers to take up the low paid jobs over there, is our future in Jernsey?