Updated | Minister hails drop in poverty for fifth consecutive year

Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon says that while the statistics give a glimpse of the situation in 2017, budget measures introduced over the past two years mean more improvements are expected

Poverty in Malta has drastically been reduced, Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon said on Wednesday
Poverty in Malta has drastically been reduced, Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon said on Wednesday

Michael Falzon has hailed the progress registered by the country in terms of the number of people at risk of poverty, following the publication of the latest statistics on income and living conditions.

The statistics were published on Wednesday by the National Statistics Office (NSO) and are based on data collected during 2017.

Addressing a press conference on the subject, the social solidarity minister stressed that Malta had succeeded in drastically reducing poverty since 2013.

He highlighted that the number of people at risk of poverty had fallen from 24.6% to 19% since 2013, noting that the number of people living in conditions of severe material depravation had also dropped substantially, falling from 10.2% to 3%.

Both indicators, he said, were today at historically low levels.

According to the NSO, the number of people living under conditions of severe material depravation stood at 3% in 2017, having seen a marginal decrease of 0.3% over the previous year.

During the same period, the number of people who were at risk of poverty stood at 16.8%, equivalent to 78,685 people.

The average gross household income was estimated to be €33,573, while households’ average disposable income stood at €27,830. 

The number of people living below the at-risk-of-poverty line grew by 0.01% over the previous year.

Falzon insisted that the result obtained by the present administration stood in stark contrast with those obtained by past Nationalist administration.

He said that the country had gone from a situation were it was registering poverty levels above the European average to one that was now below average.

Malta was today being compared to Scandinavian country, rather than countries going through economic crises as was the case in the past, he said.

The minister pointed to measures such as the tapering of benefits and the tapering of benefits as having contributed to a reduction in people living in poverty.

Permanent Secretary Mark Musu noted that there had been some 70 measures that were  intended to directly or indirectly address the issue of poverty in the last two budgets, adding that it was expected that the results from these measures would be noticeable over the next few years.

The explained that the at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion indicator was based on three main criteria: how an individual’s income compares with the median equivalised national income, the amount of people under 60 not working for at least eight hours a week and the number of people living under conditions of severe material depravation.

He emphasised that the percentage decreases registered over the past five years needed to be considered within the context of a growing population, making the decrease all the more significant. 

The greatest improvement, he said, had been registered in the age group between 18 and 64, which he said could be attributed to the country’s economic growth and the fact that it was registering record-low unemployment.

Turning to severe material depravation, Musu said a survey was conducted by the NSO to evaluate how people felt they would keep up with expenses.

This, he said, included their ability to pay loans and utility bills, take holidays, regularly eat chicken fish or meet and whether they feel they can warm their house during winter.

Government has lost its social conscience - PN

The Nationalist Party said the statistics again clearly show that the Labour government is very far from keeping the promises it made before the 2013 election, “when it had boasted about how it would eradicate poverty in Malta”.

“Instead of the best of times, the statistics show that almost 80,000 people have a low income that is below the poverty line, having increased when compared to the previous year,” the PN said through its spokesperson on poverty Ivan Bartolo.

16.8% of Maltese and Gozitans were suffering, Bartolo said, adding that the government was placing more burdens on families.

It pointed to increases in the price of fuel as well as milk as proof of how life is becoming more difficult for those who were vulnerable.

“The government is only interested in boasting about the economy. Not only has poverty increased, but the middle class is not coping with ever increasing prices of food and essential products,” Bartolo said.

Labour tells PN to look at its own record

Responding to the PN, the Labour Party said it would have been better had the Opposition looked at its own track record on poverty

It said that in the last five years of a PN administration, the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion had increased by 21,000. “In this government’s first five years, the number went down by 13,000.”

The government, it said, was “eradicating the poverty created by past Nationalist governments”.  

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