President calls for holistic policies to address poverty and social sustainability

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca makes impassioned plea for authorities to treat poverty as more than just an economic issue • Caritas urges authorities to determine how many people are living in poverty and urges action to address basic needs

President of the Republic Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (Photo: Ray Attard)
President of the Republic Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (Photo: Ray Attard)

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca made an impassioned plea to stakeholders and relevant authorities to address the issue of poverty and treat it as more than just an economic issue.

“All too often, policy makers talk about the economic sustainability of policies  aimed at reducing poverty, but they forget that poverty is also about social sustainability,” she said.

Speaking at an information session about Caritas’s study “A minimum essential budget for a decent living,” Colerio Preca stressed that studies had shown that one in three of Maltese children are classified as living in overty.

“Essentially this means that these children are not being exposed to other forms of education, or to environments that allow them to reach their full potential and facilitate social mobility.”

She added that all children should have the same opportunity to dream of a better future, where education features strongly as a means to attain better conditions.

“We need to remember that we are talking about individuals with needs, and poverty goes against these needs and rights,” she said, adding that more needed to be done to battle the pervasive mentality that poor people are to blame for poverty, or that people on social benefits were necessarily abusers of the system.

Coleiro Preca went on to urge authorities to allocate a “bail out” fund for families living in poverty, in much the same way as the government had for banks and financial systems.

“Poverty is both an economic and social issue, and as such incentives in both sectors should finally eradicate this issue,” she added, stressing that this had been one of her main aims all along.

She went on to urge the government to take the report on board to create more policies that reflect the research and realities of today. She went on to point out that eradicating poverty would ultimately lead to benefits to the economy.

 “Poverty means that these individuals cannot afford to eat properly, leading to health issues in their future, and subsequent costs on the public health system, among others,” she argued.

Caritas director Leonid McKay backed Coleiro Preca’s comments and said that the study sought to show that poverty is not self-inflicted, and that many misconceptions about poverty ought to be challenged.

He further pointed out that the study was not focus in on minimum wage, but that it meant to prove through data, that regardless of the incentives offered, some people could not get back into the workforce.

“We hope that the relevant authorities will use the study to actually determine how many people were currently living in poverty, and to ensure that policies ensured at least the minimums stipulated in the report.

Pointing out that Caritas was in no position to speculate about the number of people at risk of poverty, McKay added that the organization would meet the cabinet and PN executive council during the week to discuss the report and its recommendations. 

Referring to media reports that had quoted the Caritas report “selectively”, McKay stressed that there was currently no way of proving that poverty was indeed on the rise using statistical data.  

“The data collected in the study did not give an assessment of whether more people were poor, but instead showed that the cost of living a basic decent living had increased, resulting from increased prices for food items and rents among others.”

Caritas recommends rent subsidies, further financial assistance for low income households

Caritas has urged authorities to consider giving families with a low income living in private residences rather than social housing with subsidies to allow them to cope with exorbitant rents.

In its study, entitled a minimum essential budget for a decent living, Caritas looks at three low-income household categories and makes a number of recommendations to reduce poverty in the country.

The households used for the study comprise of two adults and two dependent children, a lone parent and two dependent children as well as an elderly couple.

Caritas director Leonid McKay pointed out that the study had revealed that a family of two adults and two children required an annual  salary of €11,446, while a lone parent with two dependent children required an annual salary of €9,197 and an elderly couple required an annual salary of €6,526 to have the most basic services and items for a decent living.

“The salaries assume that the families in question are living in social housing, and are receiving subsidies for their utility bills, as well as being free from health problems or disabilities, as well as attending Public schools and using public transport rather than their own private vehicles,” McKay said pointing out that the reality for many families presented different or additional costs.

Caritas recommended the adoption of the three minimum essential budgets outlined in its study to define an adequate minimum income to ultimately guide future social security policies.

She added that social benefits do not necessarily mean that people are unwilling to change, but that some people like those with mental issues deserved and needed our attention and assistance permanently.

To that end, Caritas also recommended a deeper consideration of those who legitimately could not participate in the workforce by strengthening benefits for people who have a disability and might as a result earn less than the recommended minimum.

Mc Kay also added that any rise in the minimum wage should be accompanied by necessary measures like training and awareness to teach families how to plan their finances according to their means once they start earning a proper pay.

Caritas also urged the government to facilitate access to healthy foods to low-income families with a view to create better health and better futures for low income families.

“We can also recommend an extension of the FEAD scheme to include complementary schemes to promote regular  provision of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as deliveries  akin to the meals on wheels system for the elderly,” he said.