Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Miser’s Hoard

The Miser’s Hoard

I see the Council of Ministers have returned to the bad old ways of Terry Le Sueur’s Council, and comments to propositions are added within a day of their being debated.

Is a “Means Tested Christmas Bonus” on the way? The proposition asks the States “to agree that a new means-tested Christmas bonus should be introduced from December 2016 for all pensioners resident in Jersey who are not liable to pay Jersey income tax;”

And also requests “the Minister for Social Security to bring forward for approval the necessary legislation to give effect to the proposal.”

The comment by the Council of Ministers makes some promises:

“The Council of Ministers therefore asks States Members to reject the current proposition, and to accept a commitment from the Council of Ministers to bring forward proposals that are fully considered, properly detailed, and funded, for new legislation for a targeted Christmas bonus in 2016.”

But when you read the fine says "how bonuses... could be continued". Notice the prevarication.

“A major review of the Social Security Fund will begin in 2016, designed to ensure its future sustainability, which will include a review of contribution rates and how we support pensions, helping us in our preparations for our ageing society. Alongside this, a review will be undertaken to consider how bonuses to support vulnerable pensioners could be continued in this wider context.”

The timeline for the review is vague:

“This review will report in 2016 as part of the addition to the Medium Term Financial Plan, so that if approved any bonus can be paid in time for Christmas next year”

It doesn’t say exactly when the review will be finished, and as we know from the review of the hospital site, these matters have a habit of being displaced further and further ahead.

“This review will explore how a bonus should be targeted, how it should be administered, how legislation could be developed, and importantly, a clear source of funding within existing approved MTFP spending limits.”

“This is important, as any scheme must be sustainable in the longer term, analysing the age at which people need support, where support should be targeted, and how much “support is needed.

Yet as the comment itself notes, the proposition is targetted:

“This Proposition seeks to introduce a means-tested Christmas Bonus of £85 payable to all pensioners who do not pay income tax.”

It would seem obvious to me that the pensioners on the poverty line will be those who do not pay income tax, especially given the phasing out of old age relief for singles and married couples.

This is how the Council of Ministers calculate it will cost, however:

“This has an estimated annual cost of up to £700,000 in 2016 (increasing to up to £1.2 million per year, before allowing for inflation, by 2035”.

“In 2015, £1.55 million was paid out as a bonus to 19,000 claimants, of whom 16,100 were aged 65 or over. The estimate for 2016, should this proposition be approved, is based on half of all people aged 65 or over not having an income tax liability and receiving a bonus of £85”

Do almost exactly half of all people over 65 not have income tax liability? To appropriately in context cite Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it”. Half not having income tax liability is just too neat a figure. Real life is not so neat.

These are not real figures, but clearly figures sketched on the back of a matchbox. They have simply rushed out a “spoiler” – the date of the comment is 14 December 2015, without proper care over their sums. 

It is clearly intended to catch the votes of all those who in the last debate said they would not support a Christmas bonus to all pensioners, but would support a means tested one. This comment is designed to allow them to find an easy excuse to vote “contre”.

And as it is Christmas, a Quick Quiz: Which Minister when confronted by protesters said: "We were asked to make £10m worth of savings and we have done it across the board, it is not just pensioners. The States are also going to pay for their own parking."

Answer: The first part, Susie Pinel, the second part, no one. Across the board includes the public sector, pensioners, etc, but not apparently the States members themselves.

I have not seen the States Assembly themselves propose or vote any measures which would show they will take part of the cuts to the public sector. The Council of Ministers has taken no lead in this. It has not been a case of “across the board” but protecting their own miser’s hoard.

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishment.”

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