Government has achieved social cohesion – Michael Farrugia

Minster for family and social solidarity says that the government has achieved social cohesion through its ability to balance economic growth, social inclusion and the effective distribution of wealth

Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity Michael Farrugia
Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity Michael Farrugia

Minster for family and social solidarity Michael Farrugia has said that the government, through the budget, is introducing a new level of social justice and is achieved social cohesion through its ability to provide opportunities for everyone in society, distributing wealth while also managing to remain pro-business, thus driving the economy forward.

He said that the results being achieved today – with Malta having the lowest rate of unemployment in Europe – were a result of the fact that the government took the brave decision to reject austerity, unlike many other European countries.

He criticised the previous government for claiming that poverty was only a perception and accused the opposition of making up figures and purposely misrepresenting statistics. Farrugia explained how the last report released by National Statistics Office shows that the opposition is trying to deceive people because it shows that between 2013 and 2014, poverty started to go down after having previously increased year after year. He also explained how the statistics showed that there was also a reduction in people suffering with severe material deprivation.

Farrugia also said that he could not understand certain claims being made by the opposition because today’s measures can only be judged in the future. He said that today, the NSO is reporting on the situation in 2014 – one year into the current legislature.

Justyne Caruana, Parliamentary Secretary for rights of persons with disability and active aging, said that after help given in previous budgets, the government was now trying to help people with a disability who were not able to work. She added that a number of learning hubs for people with a disability had been opened and that the government was working on introducing a number of laws and measures aimed at improving all aspects of the lives of those suffering with a disability.

Caruana said that the government had already received 150 applications for the newly launched live-in carer scheme, with some people already have benefitted from the scheme. She also rubbished claims that the quality of service being provided in the ‘Meals on Wheels’ scheme had somehow deteriorated, adding that a more varied menu had been introduced and that it had been well received by the public.

She also said that over the past year, the government had continued to invest in more beds for the elderly and had also invested heavily in refurbishing old people’s homes as well as in opening new centres for the elderly. The government, she added was broadening the scope of these centres and was consulting with NGOs as well as the church.

Caruana rubbished claims that there was political discrimination taking place at St Vincent de Paul residence for the elderly claiming that the residence was run by a politically mixed administration. She said that a pain relief clinic, a vascular surgery clinic as well as a dental lab had all been added to the residence’s facilities in addition to a new café and ‘bocci’ court among others.  

On her part, Nationalist MP Paula Mifsud Bonnci said that those in society who are suffering and will continue to suffer while accusing the Prime Minister of using numbers and statistics to deceive the population insisting that “people want facts and not numbers”.

Referring to a report on poverty that was published by Caritas earlier this year, she said that the cost of living had increased at an alarming rate and that people were no longer able to live a decent life with their level of income.

Mifsud Bonnici said that while she agrees that pensions should not be taxed, she accused the government of not doing enough saying that only 2,500 pensioners will be benefiting from the proposed increase of 2.25 a week.

She also questioned why supplementary allowance would only be given to married pensioners and not to those pensioners living alone. In addition to this, she said that the government had created a great disparity between widows who worked outside of the home throughout their life and those who had chosen to stay home and raise a family. She said it was not right that there was currently a situation where those who worked at home are paid 4/6th of their husband’s pension.

Mifsud Bonnici said that she agreed that the government should do its utmost to stop people abusing the benefits system however she added that she could not understand how the government could cut people off simply because there was suspicion of abuse.

Moreover, she said that she was concerned by the fact that there were currently 3,300 people waiting for social housing and that the government was doing nothing about this.

Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar accused the government of relying too heavily on propaganda, claiming that government ministers were caught up in competition with each other over media time.

He also lamented the current working conditions of those working at St Vincent de Paul residence for the elderly. He appealed to the residence’s CEO to engage with workers their because only by doing could the situation improve. In addition to this, he said that the infrastructure at the residence was crumbling and was not good enough to cater for the needs of the elderly.

On rent and social housing, Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri said that the fact that there are currently 15,000 people currently living in social housing, with a further 3,300 on a waiting list, makes it clear that people are not managing to make ends meet.

He said that rent is constantly increasing and that it is not right for half of a family’s pay cheque to have to be spent on paying rent.  

Marlene Farrugia, leader of the Democratic Party, said that a government can only claim to have a social conscience when there are no people living in poverty, adding that the success of a society can only be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members.

She said that the country was not doing enough to support the family and that this was contributing to social problems.

“While it is good that we have introduced free childcare centres let us not assume that women have now been emancipated. Women, and men, are truly emancipated when they have a choice and not when both parents need to work to barely make ends meet,” she said.

Farrugia also argued that the sale of government land had made the population poorer since there were now less areas that the public could enjoy.

On the minimum wage, Farrugia said that she expected the government not to have to wait for a go ahead from employers to increase the minimum wage, especially when it was clear that the current wage is not enough. 

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