Giving them a fighting chance

The NSO statistics show that one in 20 children are still living in a state of severe material deprivation. 16% of those questioned say they would not be able to afford an unexpected bill of €650, should it come their way

An important task for any politician is house visits. It is an interesting duty because you really never know what you will face. Some are friends you haven’t seen in ages, others are people who have supported you throughout your career and invite you over. There will be people who will open their door as if you’re the Pope, others who will clearly, and sometimes colourfully, show you that they don’t vote for your party. It’s an experience each and every politician goes through and it’s still a great way to understand and measure the social realities in our communities.

We tend to make assumptions throughout our day-to-day work. We read about how the country is doing well in terms of GDP and various financial reports. But the real barometer is what people say in their living rooms. There is no phone survey or NSO report which can replace a chat in the kitchen with all the family gathered. People tend to open up and give you depth. If they’re doing well, they will say it and if they’re not, they’ll also say it. No ifs or maybes. You get it all directly, in raw form. From what I gathered during the past election campaign, and visits after that, people are feeling that the country is doing well. It’s not necessarily because their salary increased. But they’ll tell you their daughter found a job immediately after graduating, they’ll tell you their partner found a part-time job or there’s more over-time available for those who want it. Middle-class families are going up a step or two, from barely managing to comfortably managing. It’s all these people ask for; a decent living and a roof over their heads.

You clearly understand that, while the sun did not rise for the first time in 2013, there’s tangible improvement being felt across different levels of society. People from business will tell you that work is booming, but my immediate questions would be, “Are jobs being created and are salaries rising?” The answers are often, yes. And there’s evidence in statistics that backs this. Salaries are indeed rising and jobs in the private sector are being created. Some might say that there are too many vacancies, and that our competitive edge might be dented if salaries keep rising. But that is another economic argument.

This week new statistics were published on the rates of severe material deprivation. The trend is clear, things are improving. There are still big challenges, but the focus is on the right things. In the past, the major obstacles were lack of work and opportunity. Today, things are different, jobs are aplenty. The biggest challenge is, by far, housing. The Government is focusing a lot of its energy on this because it is indeed an important issue. Part of the problem is the result of our own success, with many people coming to Malta to find better fortune. Central Bank statistics show that at the beginning of the previous legislature, the number of permits for apartments was 2,000 and over the past year or two this increased to 8,000 a year. Prices have not gone down or stabilised and, in some cases, are still increasing. Having an affordable rental market is crucial because rent eats away big chunks of the income of low-earning families.

The NSO statistics show that one in 20 children are still living in a state of severe material deprivation. 16% of those questioned say they would not be able to afford an unexpected bill of €650, should it come their way. Our duty, not just as a Government but also as the Labour Party, is to continue to fight tooth and nail so that the lives of these families are improved. We need to make sure the wealth created by a booming economy reaches them as well and provides more opportunities for them.

These are some of the families that we politicians meet in house visits. House visits only exist because of how our election process is. Statistics are numbers, until you knock on that door and they welcome you in. Then it’s a human story, with some circumstances the result of mistakes and tough breaks. But at the end of the day it is our duty to make sure we give everyone a fighting chance to make their life better, to make sure that their children’s future is not determined by their present circumstances. They want the chance to make something for themselves. That is our job.

 

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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