September 2000, I packed my worldly goods into my D-reg Fiesta and boarded the boat to Jersey. As a 24 year-old newly-qualified solicitor, leaving the familiarity of home to start a new job in the island, I didn’t know whether this was to be a short, or long-term, adventure.
Fast-forward 21 years, and I’m still here. I love Jersey. It’s been good to me. But, as with any love-affair, if you start to feel neglected, the rot sets in. Things you might previously have overlooked take on increased significance, minor niggles begin to really irk; you begin to lose trust. And I fear I may be getting to that point. Don’t get me wrong: I still love Jersey, I’m still committed to it, but do we have a long-term future together, or am I going to wake up one day and swipe left?
Since moving to the island, I’ve: been married and divorced, bought and sold four homes, met someone else (who’s also from the UK), had two kids, risen up the ranks of the legal profession, got involved in the community, shopped the High Street. I reckon, on any analysis, I’m a fairly useful, loyal, law-abiding, socially-engaged, tax-paying member of society. Yes, I’m privileged. Hugely privileged. I’ve benefitted from the 20% tax rate, the quality work, the J-Cat, the lovely beaches, the safety of the streets, the honesty boxes and the creamy milk. But is that enough to keep me – and people like me – here? And is anyone that bothered whether we stay or not?
I posed this question on Twitter and was staggered by the response. Many people similar to me (middle-class, educated to degree-level), also expressed doubt about their long-term future in Jersey. A common theme was: inability to afford housing, kids unlikely to return to the island after Uni, extremely high cost of living.
I can appreciate all of those. I’d also add: distance from ageing parents and other family, high cost of travel off-island, narrow male-dominated administration/leadership, lack of choice and prices in supermarkets and shops, poor, little or cumbersome decision-making (anyone think the hospital will be finished by the time I retire? Nah, me neither), the list goes on.
By the way, I’m self-aware enough to appreciate that my concerns pale into insignificance compared to many. This blog isn’t meant to be insensitive, it’s simply my experience of present-day life in middle-Jersey (not to be confused with middle-Earth. Although – fun fact! -the Jersey foot (based on the smaller, although presumably not Hobbitesque, Jerseyman’s foot size) is only 11 inches and not the UK’s 12 inches).
Of course, with privilege comes choice. I’m fortunate to own a house. It’s a very nice house. If I sold my house (assuming the bottom doesn’t fall out of the financial services sector), I could buy a very, very nice house in the UK, near to family, live much more cheaply AND have a substantial lump-sum to live off. I could even become one of those notoriously reviled (amongst some sectors) landlords, buying that very, very nice UK house AND a small investment apartment to rent out in Jersey. Whilst in many senses it’s a nice problem to have, seeing your home rocket in value quarter-by-quarter does tend to make you feel unsettled as the cogs whirr thinking about whether it’s time to ‘cash in’.
(Again, no offence intended, I’m acutely aware this is a first-world problem).
But if I did sell up and leave, what would Jersey lose? Financially, it’s lost a long-term tax-payer, someone that ‘buys local’, has a pension, isn’t a drain on the health or social care system and educates her kids (the island’s future) on-island. But my departure would be a financial drop in the ocean compared to some. And so what else would Jersey lose? Here’s what I can immediately think of:
- I go, my husband and kids go too. Another highly-educated tax-payer lost. Plus two locally-educated kids who, with no family ties to the island are unlikely to return. So, tell me, how’s that pension you’re relying on to see you in to old age looking, with fewer young people to pay the taxes to fund it?
- my engagement in the community. This isn’t a humblebrag, but I’m involved in local charities, fundraising, networks etc. My kids enjoy sports clubs, Cubs, local attractions. We participate, we give back, we belong to and support the community.
- my professional expertise. I qualified as a Jersey Advocate 19 years ago, specialising in Jersey property, an area that now has few practitioners, and even fewer coming up the ranks. There’s a real concern about the ageing profession and so if the UK-born middle-aged of us decide to leave, that’s going to squeeze an already pressurised sector – a sector whose members often go onto political and judicial roles which are the backbone of the Jersey administration.
- my personal drive to level-up Jersey’s woefully slow record on equality and advancement of women, in particular. You want a modern, vibrant island? You’re gonna need a few more people that aren’t pale, male and stale, mate. Believe me, it’s getting increasingly frustrating seeing the same old (male) faces advance…
However, some responses to my tweet were less appreciative of the benefits of retaining us middle-class, middle-age immigrants. A few said they were aggrieved that people like me have come from the UK and priced them, as ‘locals’ out of the market. Now I’m no economist or sociologist (in fact, I’m not an ologist of any sort!), and so I don’t know if that’s a fair assertion or, whether (as I suspect) the reality is that that’s just one of many reasons why huge swathes of our society are unable to afford decent housing. What I am fairly sure of, is that without the skills and taxes from us middlers and our kids, the stability of the Island’s economy may be seriously affected. Sure, without us, you might then afford to buy that house, but have you still got your job, or has your employer left the island? Are there any high street banks here to lend to you? Any conveyancers still working to transact for you? You’ve fallen ill? Shame, the GP can’t see you as she’s moved back to the UK. You want full supermarkets selling cheap food? Sorry, no can do. The population’s now so small and aged, it’s not economically viable to ship it here.
Of course, this is a provocative over-simplification. I guess, as with anything, it boils down to a question of balance. But what’s struck me is there’s a large sector of middle-Jersey that’s having the same conversation round the dinner table – should we stay, or should we go? And, whilst some may celebrate getting ‘their’ island back, the impact on those remaining may not be quite the dream they hope for.
So, what’s the answer? I genuinely don’t know. But what I do know is that doing nothing isn’t an option. My view is that if Government continues to squeeze middle Jersey, fails to modernise and engage on housing and population issues, doesn’t welcome employable immigrants, raises taxes, reduces quality of healthcare and allows the cost of living to rise even further, me – and people like me – may well check out on a one-way ticket.
I’m reminded that, a few weeks after moving to the island, a disgruntled neighbour shouted at me, ‘remember, there’s always another boat home in the morning’. I laughed it off at the time. But now, 20-odd years later, who knows, middle-Jersey might just get on it.