Family minister says €50 million will be invested in 16 social housing sites

Five community homes for those with a disability to be fully operational by the end of the year - Justyne Caruana

Family minister Michael Farrugia has said that the government will be investing some €50 million in social housing projects to assist those with the lowest incomes, as well as those living at risk of poverty.

Speaking at a public consultation session under the Gvern li Jisma sessions, Farrugia explained that the investment would see residences built over 16 sites, and that tendering procedures for excavation necessary at the various sites were currently underway.

“These sites are not in out of development zones, and they were earmarked and given due permits many years ago, but the actual construction of the projects has been neglected and abandoned for years,” Farrugia said.

He added that these houses would all be equipped with lifts to increase accessibility for the elderly and those with a disability.

“We will also be ensuring sheltered housing in some of the estates for the elderly as a pilot project, to ensure that the elderly living in these estates are given assistance whenever they need it,” he said, adding that efforts would also be made to make the lodgings as environmentally friendly as possible, and reduce the bills to be paid by those living there.

He explained that the initiatives had been a response to the results of the Caritas report on decent living, and that as a further response to the findings of the report, the government had also started courses about financial management and healthy eating and living. 

The minister added that 86% of the electoral manifest in the sector had already been achieved, with dependance on social benefits and employment rates rising considerably in the past three years.

Farrugia said that  the government would continue working to incentivize people to enter the workforce and to find ways to help those who absolutely cannot enter the workforce and try to decrease dependence on social benefits and ensure at least a minimum wage to these individuals.

“We have already introduced a tapering of social benefits for individuals getting into the worforce, as well as an in-work benefit for working parents, over and above the already existing children’s allowances,” he said, adding that 500 parents had already benefitted from the latter in order to go back to work.

He explained that those on unemployment benefits had gone from around 3,000  to some 1,700 in three years.  

Discussing pensions, Farrugia also explained that the government had found ways to increase pensions for widows in the coming months and that that the government had also worked to ensure that those who decided to study, were ultimately eligible to credits to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their future pensions.

“We will also be opening an emergency centre for families to eat, sleep and clean themselves, as well as for the provision of psychological services,” Farrugia said.

The minister added that the law for care orders and other aspects of family law were currently being discussed in parliament.

“We currently have no law to protect the rights of children, and that is one of our next aims,” he said, adding that another law to be tackled in the coming months, would be making the use of violence to discipline children.

Five community homes for those with a disability to be fully operational by the end of the year - Justyne Caruana

Parliamentary Secretary for the elderly Justyne Caruanahas said that five community care homes for those with a disability were expected to be fully operational by the end of 2016.

“The government has promised the opening of ten such homes around the island, with homes in Siggiewi, Gozo and Zurrieq already open, and another two, in Pembroke and Zabbar expected to open by the end of the year,” Caruana said.

She added that a house in Marsa had just recently been given to the secretariat, and that it was currently being assessed to evaluate what works would be necessary for it to be fit for receiving and caring for those with a disability.

The parliamentary secretary said that there were currently 1,000 person benefitting from services offered by Agenzija Sapport’s, which has only now been established as a legal and official entity, with further services, like sign language interpreter services being offered as a result. She added that over the past year, Maltese sign language had been given official recognition.

She added that the sector for the elderly, who form around a quarter of the local population, was being treated as an opportunity, with active ageing forming a central part of the strategy.

“We encourage active ageing through activities at day care centres, courses at the University of Malta as well as community services being offered more easily throughout the country,” Caruana said, adding that there are currently no home help cases on the waiting list, with the only pending ones still waiting to undergo assessment.

She further said that the government would soon be signing an agreement to double the number of meals delivered under the local meals on wheels service, with 82,000 meals being delivered over 2015 alone, and costs for the service actually going down.

“The government is also currently carrying out renovations of all public residences for the elderly in view of the standards enacted during the past year,” Caruana said.