‘Generalisation of social benefits abuse demonises beneficiaries’ – Puli

Nationalist MP says government is not addressing eradication of poverty

Labelling everyone dependent on social benefits as lazy is a generalisation that doesn’t help the vulnerable ones who are in desperate need of financial assistance, Nationalist MP Clyde Puli said.

Addressing parliament during the budget’s financial estimates for the ministry for family and social solidarity, Puli said labelling those on social benefits doesn’t help the fight against abuse.

Puli asked how the new measures would impact single parents who, for various reasons, could not join the workforce. “How are the genuine cases going to be determined? And what will happen if single parents find work on shift and childcare centres close at 4pm?”

According to the budget speech, Budget 2015 aims at abolishing social benefits abuse while rewarding hard work. According to the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, the government every year is being defrauded of €3.5 million represent 2% of the total yearly cost of non‐contributory benefits in Malta, which amount to €165 million.

Puli said that while one could not argue against fighting abuse, the fight against fraud started in 2006 with the setting up of anti-fraud department within the social security department.

“What is government doing to strengthen this department? When it was set up, former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi warned that such a department should not be overzealous but should carry out its work carefully,” he said.

Puli also accused government of failing to uphold its electoral pledge to eradicate poverty. “The government is failing miserably in this sector. According to its own electoral manifesto, there were 88,000 people in poverty or at risk of poverty during the PN administration. This figure increased to 99,000 during its first two years in government. What is government doing? Is it still in search of a roadmap?”

Puli lambasted a green paper on poverty reduction and social inclusion as one lacking substance, describing it as a “desktop analysis which offers no vision or solution”. He said a national policy required measurable accounts, considering the government’s ambitious plan for 22,000 persons to exit poverty by 2015.

Elderly spokesman and MP Mario Galea urged government not to ignore dementia-sufferers. Galea asked what government was doing to increase bed space for the elderly. He argued, that Malta’s increasingly ageing population required government to increase bed space by 200 beds every year.

Galea also asked whether a capital vote of €400,000 for an elderly home in Gozo would be enough.  He went on to urge government to explain how it was going to increase bed space beyond public private partnership schemes.

“There is an ever increasing demand for nursing beds, something which the private sector will not provide unless these are subsidised by the government,” he said.

Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri welcomed government’s decision to enforce a 1967 law that stipulates that 2% of the people employed by companies that employ over 20 people must be people with a disability.

“This is a positive initiative that further enforces the integration of persons with disability. However, we also have to ensure that employers receive coaching, making it easier for them to employ persons with special needs,” Spiteri said.

He said that it was already “challenging for employers to train people without needs”. Reiterating that tax credits were important to incentivise employers to employ persons with disability, coaching offered by the Employment and Training Corporation should be provided.

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