Food & fuel poverty – Minister Thomas responds for the CMs office

News from Mannin Branch of the Celtic League:

I wrote to the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man two weeks ago asking for urgent assistance to help the needy on the Island AHEAD of this winter. I applauded the Island overseas aid commitment but urged that the same spirit was shown to those in difficulty at home (link):

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1837382359643850&id=80…

Chris Thomas MHK as Minister for Policy and Reform was asked to respond and I set out his letter below. As usual I don’t comment or analyse the content of the response just set it out as it is:

“Dear Mr Moffatt

Thanks for your email of 18th September to which the Chief Minister has asked me to reply, and apologies I only got to it this evening. Moreover I look forward to meeting on 31st October when we can discuss poverty and public policy more.

I note your reassuring comments about Syria, international aid and refugees with interest.

The crux of your argument seems to be your observation about “folk at home who endure suffering and deprivation”, and your statements and questions that arise.

Surely everyone agrees that our economy needs to work for everyone, and that the growth in our economy needs to be inclusive? The focus on GDP and GDP per capita in recent decades did not make this clear enough. That changed with the Programme for Government objective of An Inclusive and Caring Society living in An Island of Enterprise and Opportunity, the constraint being the need for Financially Responsible Government. This is captured by one of the six performance indicators of Government performance which is an increase in median real earnings after tax. This should encourage an increase in lower and middle household incomes, the best way to tackle poverty.

We also need a focus on the cost of living. Surely the one year freeze on utilities charges and the plan for CPI-linkage in coming years will help, as will things like a new user agreement removing the RPI basis for standard freight and fare charging, and an initiative regarding pricing in gas etc.? We are also looking at new specific “household cost” inflation measures which will help us understand and potentially assist with cost of living increases for those receiving lower wages, social security and pensions in particular, enabling a ‘minimum income standard’ approach for instance.

The generosity of the Manx public and the way the food retailers have changed their processes to make food available is helping alleviate the trauma for people that can affect them when things change with benefits, family situations, personal trauma etc.. But we need to tackle structural issues behind this, including with better social policy, training and employment support, social security arrangements, and – probably most importantly – encouragement of an economy with high value jobs and career opportunities.

There is also the child poverty issue during holidays. I think we have a couple of initiatives that will make a difference in this, based around community delivery in part and an amendment to social security.

Tackling fuel poverty will need policies based in social security, as well as initiatives around fuel pricing and energy efficiency.

Homelessness is probably the most important thing to tackle in that sorting it out first enables better responses to cold and hunger. A roof over your own safe and comfortable home enables so much. There are a number of initiatives we have in mind.

In summary this really is a complex issue which matters so much it needs tackling properly, in a structured way which addresses the real issues. That is why we have a cross-government approach, and why we encouraged the formation of a third sector group (Housing Matters, Food Bank, Graih, Salvation Army) to help us with data and responses earlier this year. A Cold Hunger Homelessness policy response is now being finalised for consideration and decision.

Of course we need to be aware of risks this winter, as you state in your email. For instance, and as you will know, help with winter heating bills is provided to certain recipients of income support – including pensioners, the disabled, the long-term sick and families with a child under 5 – in the form of a £300 lump-sum Winter Bonus, which is paid to qualifying beneficiaries in January each year. Is there anything else specific you had in mind?

If you don’t mind, I’ll finish now and get home. Best wishes recovering from your cold, and see you at the end of the month. Please don’t hesitate to correspond about this, but I think we agree that action is what will count, not data, not words, but action.

Lesh yeearreeyn share – With best wishes

Chris

Hon Chris Thomas MHK
Minister for Policy and Reform”

My thanks to Minister Thomas MHK, the Chief Minister and Cabinet Office staff who have dealt with the query.

Bernard Moffatt

Mannin Branch Celtic League

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