Editorial: We cannot look away

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 April, 2022 at 9:51 am by Andre Camilleri

This week, the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) revealed through a survey that the material and social deprivation rate in Malta stood at 9.8% in 2021, (49,769 people) whereas the severe material and social deprivation rate stood at 5.5% (27,769). Both those figures represent increases from 2020, when the corresponding figures stood at 9.4% and 5.1%, respectively. These are figures we simply cannot ignore. The annual EU-wide study calculates deprivation rates within a society by asking respondents to state whether they can afford to do various things, from facing an unexpected financial expense to buying a car, affording social activities, persons who do not have access to an in internet connection, going on holiday or making rent or home loan payments. Respondents who cannot afford at least five of the thirteen listed items are considered materially and socially deprived. Those who cannot afford seven or more are deemed severely deprived.

 We are talking about thousands of people within the Maltese islands here, and we cannot look away from them any longer. In May 2004, The European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Malta was set up as a network of Maltese NGOs involved in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. EAPN Malta has 53 member organisations and is a member of EAPN, a network of 21 national networks and European organisations. The primary aim of EAPN Malta is to bring together all those with the capacity and the will to eradicate poverty and social exclusion. In addition, The Anti-Poverty forum Malta defines poverty in Malta as prevalent in three major categories of Maltese society – the unemployed, pensioners and single parents. Another category on the increase is that of ‘the working poor’. The key focus of APF Malta’s work is to participate and influence the national action plans for inclusion, the National Reform Programme and the participation of persons facing poverty and social exclusion in national policies and plans.

In 2008, the EAPN Malta launched an in depth report on how we can help navigate this complex topic, focusing on an often overlooked area that goes hand in hand with poverty and social exclusion. They identified that socially excluded people are often denied the opportunities available to others to increase their income and escape from poverty by their own efforts. So, even though the economy may grow and general income levels may rise, excluded people are likely to be left behind, making up an increasing proportion of those who remain in poverty. Poverty reduction policies often fail to reach them unless they are specifically designed to do so. It impedes the efficient operation of market forces and restrains economic growth. For instance, people in disadvantaged groups who may be talented and endowed with good ideas may not be able to raise the capital to start up a business. Social inclusion is being challenged continuously by demographic changes and the need to improve accessibility and quality of social services. At the same time, the influence of EU policies has become increasingly important, and there is growing concern about uncertainties and gaps in knowledge and understanding of the complex legal issues at stake. How has Malta responded to the challenges posed by implementing EU policies? How poor are the poor in Malta? To what extent is inequality a concern to Malta’s policy makers? We sincerely hope such entities step forward and help influence the new cabinet in supporting such a vulnerable sector of society. We need to address this matter with immediate effect.

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