By Dr Chris Edmond
IT’S been a good month if, like me, you enjoy reading statistics and policy reports. However, I’m not sure it’s been a great month if you care about the future outlook for our island.
First up in my reading pile was the recently published Local Needs Assessment from the Jersey Community Foundation. This thorough and independent report provides data and insights, across seven themes, to guide effective charitable giving and philanthropy.
The JCF report worries me. The research found that 44% of respondents were either somewhat or very likely to move away from Jersey, half of whom planned to leave within the next five years. The report reiterated the well-known stats on housing costs and inflation, and noted our rapidly ageing demographic and increasing dependency ratio (a measure of the number of dependants compared to the total working-age population) – highlighting also that ‘data from the US shows that a 10% increase in the population aged 60-plus leads to a 5% fall in GDP per-capita’.
The JCF report goes on to highlight our low birth rates (among the lowest in the world), our increasing levels of inequality, and that 53% of Islanders are having difficulty meeting their living costs. The majority of Islanders self-reported that they would find it difficult to pay an unexpected bill of £400.
The next report I read was the Big Health and Wellbeing Conversation. There is a wealth of information in the report, and it neatly summarises upfront the issues that are having the most negative impact on Islanders’ health and wellbeing – sadly, from my perspective as an occupational physician, the most commonly cited was ‘work’, as well as associated factors such as ‘cost of living’, ‘money’ and ‘housing’. Many respondents reported that they were unable to afford healthy food and that they struggled to access healthcare and other support services.
Also highlighted in the report were Islanders’ clear desires for a better work-life balance, to spend time outdoors being physically active, and spending time with friends and family.
Next up was the Jersey Health Profile. This report similarly found that Jersey is becoming less equal over time, and that widening inequalities were probably having an impact on health and wellbeing. The report suggests that 24% of households are in relative low income after housing costs.
Finally, Statistics Jersey published their Median Earnings report for June 2022. While much has been made about the reported gender pay gap of 12% overall, what stood out for me most was the nationality pay gap, with Portuguese Islanders having a gap compared to the median level of pay of 26% overall, and an even greater gap of 32% when compared directly to British/Jersey nationals. The figures for Islanders of Romanian and Polish nationality were not much better.
It appears that despite our overall wealth, we are an increasingly unequal island – leading to high levels of stress, poorer mental and physical health, and with a sizeable proportion of the population planning to leave. And I see frequent real-life examples in my work of extreme poverty, with people needing to turn to charity to meet the most basic of needs, often in the most harrowing of circumstances.
In somewhat stark contrast, I have also been keeping a watchful eye on the new flats at the Waterfront’s Horizon development, which are now being advertised for rent as they approach completion. It appears the going rate for a two-bed flat is around £2,000-£2,500 per month, and around £1,500/month for a one-bed unit. And I see there are plans for many similar buildings all around town.
And so I return to the statistic that 44% of those who responded to the JCF survey reported they are likely to leave. I often think about why I decided to settle here with my family. It was because of the outdoor environment, the good schools, the space, the safety and the unique character that the Island displayed in abundance when I first visited nearly 20 years ago. But would I make the same decision today?
Why settle in one of the most expensive places in the world when many of the family-favourite facilities have closed over the years? Why stay if you have to live in sub-par accommodation with no long-term security? Why stay if feeding your family is a daily struggle? Why stay if you have no chance of ever having a family home with some outside space?
I fully understand why many are considering leaving, and why many already have. I worry that in 20 years’ time we may have built an awful lot of very expensive flats, with no one left to live in them. That we will have an ageing population with no one left to care for its members. And that we will have a few remaining high-net-worth families, with no one left to staff the restaurants and other facilities that attracted them here in the first place.
We need a new vision for a more equal, healthy and happy island. And we need it fast.
Dr Chris Edmond is the founder and medical director of WorkHealth (CI) Ltd, a dedicated Jersey-based occupational health provider. He is also a director at Jersey Sport and Jersey Recovery College, and adviser to the Jersey Community Foundation. He writes in a personal capacity.