Large social housing unit could have severe structural problems

Future law could crack down on abuse of elderly by their children

Social solidarity minister Michael Farrugia and parliamentary secretary Justyne Caruana. Photo by Ray Attard
Social solidarity minister Michael Farrugia and parliamentary secretary Justyne Caruana. Photo by Ray Attard

A social housing unit in Mtarfa that houses around 120 families is likely to have severe structural problems, social solidarity minister Michael Farrugia said, echoing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's speech yesterday.

"Complaints had been made over the years but nothing had been done about it," Farrugia said. "Moreover, the project's architect had always insisted that there was nothing wrong with the unit's structure."

The same experts investigating the concrete problems at Mater Dei's Accident and Emergency ward will start their investigations on the social housing unit, that was built in 1994, on Saturday. Farrugia said that a final report will be drawn up by January.

"On their initial assessment of the unit, the experts immediately requested measures that will protect the residents from any danger, such as falling pieces of concrete," Farrugia said.

He was speaking at a public consultation session entitled 'A government that listens' where he spent a good deal of time talking about the government's plans to curb the abuse of social benefits. "A third of the population receives some sort of benefit and only a few abuse the system, and we condemn these few people for giving the majority a bad name."

He mentioned budgetary schemes such as the introduction of in-work benefits for low-income earners and the Youth Guarantee scheme whereby unemployed under-23s will only receive benefits if they are enrolled within a training scheme. He also said that the government plans to crack down on the abuse of social housing.

"There was one specific case whereby a man had rented out his social housing apartment to lap dancers," Farrugia said, confirming that legal steps have been taken against this man.

He also said that a law was being drafted that will render people with a missing limb, or who are deaf, applicable for a disability pension. For such cases, only people missing two limbs or who are deaf-mute are currently eligible to receive a disability pension. "It's time our laws evolve," Farrugia said.

Parliamentary secretary for the elderly and the disabled Justyne Caruana said that a law to counter abuse against the elderly will widen the current legal definition of 'abuse'. "There are some children who home their elderly parents but then exclude them entirely from their life, their aim simply being to receive their inheritance," Caruana said. "That is abuse and this law will make it a criminal offence."

As a lawyer, she also warned that 'omertà' remains a large problem where domestic abuse is comcerned. "It is such a problem to convince victims of domestic abuse to take their cases to court," Caruana said. "In several cases, they actually go back home to the abuser, even after trying to seek help."

She also spoke about the government's plans to build at least 10 community homes for disabled people, two night shelters and two active ageing centres. She also said that the government will start enforcing a 1967 law that stipulates that 2% of the people employed by companies that employ over 20 people must be people with a disability.

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