22,000 persons to exit poverty by 2015, minister claims

Over 13,000 children and 8,000 elderly persons currently live below poverty line, social solidarity minister Mariel Louise Coliero Preca says.

In a hotly debated meeting, the parliamentary social affairs committee this afternoon discussed the green paper on the reduction of poverty, presented by the Family and social solidarity minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.

Coleiro Preca said the green paper seeks to outline the social complexities in Malta and address the detriments of poverty, which she said will continue to change with time. 

She added that government must be vigilant and "is prepared to explore policy options that seek to increase and improve opportunities to reduce social exclusion and alleviate the hardships of poverty.

With the meeting starting 30 minutes late due to the chairperson Deborah Schembri's presence at a funeral of a family member, a combative opposition MP Clyde Puli and Schembri engaged in an ongoing battle, turning it into a marathon of tit-for-tat conflict.

At times, the meeting sounded more like a pre-electoral political debate with Puli and Schembri at loggerheads over the questions posed by the opposition. After being asked to be concise by the committee chair, Puli retorted "If you want to censor me go ahead."

The battle of wits continued till the very end, with Schembri warning opposition members to refrain from passing partisan comments and maintain the constructive spirit while Puli and fellow opposition MP Robert Cutajar insisting that MPs had a right to free speech and they could not be censored.

"Was the electoral pledge to eradicate poverty a gimmick or does government have a plan on how it will eradicate poverty by 2018 and what are its yearly targets?" Puli repeatedly asked.

Earlier, Puli accused the family minister of having no concrete plans to achieve its plans to eradicate poverty, insisting that it was nigh to impossible to help 92,000 persons exit poverty in the space of a few years.

But the minister repeatedly explained that the green paper aimed at establish a policy framework while acknowledging that the reduction of poverty is an "ongoing process."

Puli said that the white paper erroneously indicated that the previous PN government had no plan to eradicate poverty and that the new Labour administration had inherited a level of poverty  which was higher than EU average.

"This green paper gives an impression that the last few years under the previous PN government were disastrous, however statistics show that the average income increased steadily despite the economic success despite the international financial crisis," Puli said.

He added that in recent years the previous Nationalist administration had embarked on a number of programmes, especially educational, fiscal and social initiatives, which were aimed at reducing poverty and encouraging more persons to enter the labour market.

Pointing out that the Labour administration has maintained these programmes, the opposition MP said that he expected the green paper to propose new initiatives "rather than putting the onus on civil society to come up with proposals."

Noting that the Labour Party electoral programme had included a pledge to eradicate known and hidden poverty, Puli asked whether the green paper would reach this target by 2018, and what were government's targets year by year.

Coleiro Preca said that the green paper was not an official government document but a collection of feedback and studies carried out by experts and stakeholders.

"We cannot sit on our laurels because poverty is not addressed by approving a document, but we need to constantly monitor the situation and actively address the problem. This is an ongoing process and poverty cannot be eradicated if we are not consistently on the ball," she said.

Noting that one in every three children is at risk of poverty, as is one out of every five elderly persons, Coleiro Preca said that currently, over 13,000 children were actually living in families whose income was below the €7,000 benchmark, effectively meaning that they lived in poverty.

Moreover, 8,000 elderly persons were living below the poverty line, the minister said. "We have set an ambitious target but we'll work relentlessly to help these 22,000 persons exit poverty over the next two years," Coleiro Preca said.

Asked whether this target is feasible, the minister said "We have looked at the matter in depth and we are targeting to elevate these 22,000 persons from poverty by 2015 but if I were to talk on specific initiatives we would be defeating the purpose of the green paper. Poverty does not only affect persons living in poverty, but poverty belongs to all tax payers and all citizens."

Interpreting Coleiro Preca's answer as meaning that government had no plan to eradicate poverty, Puli accused the minister that the green paper was devoid of clear proposals.

However, the family and social solidarity minister explained that the government had already allocated €10 million in the 2014 Budget to address poverty, such as the tapering of social benefits, and it would be discussing further proposals during the consultation process.

Opposition MP Robert Cutajar said that the government's targets would be aided by the EU Commission's forthcoming changes in the way the poverty line is measured.

In reply the minister said that the government was aware of such changes, however she added that government is "not committed to playing with numbers, but we are committed to actively struggle against poverty and improve people's living conditions while abiding with the principle of accountability." 

Well both parties could start by not promising and giving tax breaks for the highest earners at every election and give these breaks at the bottom of the scale instead.
Let s watch them live in poverty for the next year then!! Good viewing.