A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Il-baġit hu wieħed nej

Scicluna + Speaker 2016

 

Il- baġit fih diversi ingridjenti tajbin. Iżda m’humiex imħalltin tajjeb. M’hemmx ħsieb biżżejjed. L-anqas m’huma msajra biżżejjed. Kif ngħidu bil-Malti: il-baġit hu nofsu nej.

F’dan l-artiklu ser nillimita ruħi għal uħud mill-proposti ta’ natura soċjali.

Nibda bil-paga minima. F’Malta din ġiet introdotta fl-1974 mit-tieni Gvern tal-Perit Mintoff.  Dakinnhar kienet stabilita għall-ammont ta’ Lm10, jiġifieri €23.29. Ovvjament Lm10, dakinnhar, kienu jiswew u bihom kont tixtri ferm iktar mill-tixtri illum. Kull sena, din il-paga minima tiżdied b’ammont li jikkumpensa għaż-żieda fil-għoli tal-ħajja. L-ammont jitħabbar fil- baġit. Iż-żieda b’effett minn l-1 ta’ Jannar li ġej ser tkun €1.75 biex b’hekk il-paga minima għal persuna ta’ il-fuq minn tmintax-il sena għal ġimgħa xogħol ta’ 40 siegħa issa ser tkun €168.01. Ma din irid jiżdied il-bonus statutorju.

Il-paga minima teħieġ li tkun reveduta. Meta tfasslet fl-1974, tfasslet għall-ħtiġijiet ta’ dakinnhar.

Illum, wara 41 sena teħtieġ titfassal mill-ġdid skont il-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. Fil-fatt studju li kien ippubblikat mill-Caritas f’Marzu 2012 kien jistma illi hu meħtieġ li jkun hemm żieda ta’ 13.8% fil-paga minima biex l-iktar persuni vulnerabbli jingħataw in-nifs.  Ir-rapport kien intitolat A Minimum Budget for a Decent Living. A research study by Caritas Malta focusing on three low-income household categories.

Il-Gvern,(kemm dak tal-lum kif ukoll dak tal-bieraħ) ma jaqbilx ma dan. L-argument politiku tagħhom hu li bit-taħriġ u l-investiment iffokat fuq il-kisba ta’ ħiliet, ikun possibli li taqla’ l-persuni fuq il-paga minima u ċċaqlaqhom ‘il-fuq fis-sellum tal-ħajja. Din hi idea nobbli imma fil-prattika, iddum ma tagħtik ir-riżultati. Sadanittant min hu vulnerabbli jispiċċa dipendenti mill-ħarsien soċjali u għajnuniet supplimentari. Jintgħaġen fid-dipendenza. Il-paga għal dawn in-nies mhiex biżżejjed għall-minimu neċessarju tal-ħajja. In-nuqqas tal-istat li jintervjeni biex il-paga minima toffri l-protezzjoni minima meħtieġa, hu messaġġ li bix-xogħol ma tistax tgħix meta dan jitħallas bil-paga minima li għandna illum.

Huwa neċessarju li nżewġu flimkien it-taħriġ, ma’ paga minima suriet in-nies li tkun rifless tal-ħtiġijiet minimi għall-bniedem tal-lum. In-nuqqas tal- baġit li jagħraf din il-ħtieġa u jagħġina bħala parti integrali mill-viżjoni tiegħu jagħmlu l-baġit wieħed nej.

Il- baġit jirrikonoxxi l-ħtieġa li togħla l-pensjoni minima nazzjonali biex din eventwalment tasal sa 60% tad-dħul medju f’pajjiżna.  Jagħmel  l-ewwel pass  billi jipproponi żieda fil-pensjoni minima għall-dawk li għandhom il-bolol tas-sigurta soċjali mħallsa b’tali mod li l-anqas pensjoni kontributorja ser tkun €7,280 fis-sena.  Dan hu pass tajjeb. Ħadd ma jistenna li l-aġġustament meħtieġ isir kollu f’daqqa. Imma l-pensjonanti tagħna li bnew  lil Malta kif inhi illum, bi dritt jippretendu li jkun stabilit żmien raġjonevoli sa meta l-pensjoni minima nazzjonali tkun 60% tad-dħul medju f’pajjiżna. Mhux biżżejjed li l-baġit  jgħid li dan it-tragward nilħquh sal-2027. Ikun xieraq li l-pensjonanti tagħna jingħataw lura d-dinjità w ir-rispett li jistħoqilhom. Anke hawn il-baġit kien jonqsu ftit ieħor biex isir. Għadu nofsu  nej.

L-aħħar eżempju li rrid insemmi huwa dwar il-persuni b’diżabilità. Il-baġit isemmi l-ħolqien ta’ hub għal persuni b’diżabilità. Il-baġit hu xott mid-dettalji u fil-fatt jiddedika biss 6 linji għal din il-proposta fil-paġna 77 tiegħu. Dawn id-dettalji imma kienu biżżejjed biex nhar il-Ħamis li għadda, l-eks-chairman tal-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Persuni b’Diżabilità Joseph Camilleri jiddeskirivi dak propost bħala attentat biex tkun introdotta s-segregazzjoni bis-serqa (Segregation by stealth. Times of Malta, October 15, 2015).

Joseph Camilleri jargumenta li għad hawn min ma jistax jaċċetta l-fatt li l-persuni b’diżabilità ukoll għandhom l-istess aspirazzjonijiet bħal kull wieħed u waħda minna. Għaddew minn istituzzjonijiet edukattivi li taw importanza ikbar lill-inklussività, u dan b’differenza kbira minn dak li rċevew il-ġenerazzjonijiet passati.

Il-proposta fil-baġit li toħloq dan il-hub għall-persuni b’diżabilità hu għaldaqstant pass retrogradu, nieqes mill-ħsieb u huwa anke perikoluż.  Is-soċjetà Maltija tant imxiet il-quddiem, li d-Dar tal-Providenza, il-pijuniera f’Malta tal-kura għall-persuni b’diżabilità, illum il-ġurnata qed tiffoka l-enerġija tagħha fuq inizjattivi bbażati fil-komunità li joffru opportunitajiet għal għixien indipendenti lill-persuni b’diżabilità.

Anke hawn il-baġit hu nej għax huwa nieqes mill-ħsieb. Post il-persuni b’diżabilità hu magħna fil-komunità u mhux ġo gaġġa bil-vireg tad-deheb. Għax is-segregazzjoni tibqa’ gaġġa u irrispettivament mill-kwalità għolja tas-servizz mogħti, tibqa’ ħajja f’gaġġa li toqtol l-aspirazzjonijiet tal-persuni b’diżabilità. Qed nitkellmu dwar persuni, mhux dwar numri.

Għalhekk, u għal bosta raġunijiet oħra, l-baġit ta’ nhar it-Tnejn kien wieħed nofsu nej.

Ippubblikat fil-gazzetta Illum, il-Ħadd 18 t’Ottubru 2015

Kontra l-abbuż mill-benefiċċji soċjali

benefit fraud 1

 

Mhux l-ewwel darba li l-Gvern  iddikjara gwerra kontra l-abbuż ta’ benefiċċji soċjali. Niftakar li meta Lawrence Gonzi nħatar Ministru għall-ewwel darba f’ Settembru 1998, responsabbli għall-politika soċjali, kien emfasizza dan ukoll. Kienet twaqqfet unit dwar il-frodi tal-benefiċċji soċjali fil-Ministeru u nqabdu numru ta’ każi tul is-snin. Imma qatt m’hu biżżejjed.

Imma billi mhux soltu li nassoċjaw lill-Partit Laburista ma din il-posizzjoni dan il-messaġġ tal-budget fil-fehma tiegħi ħareġ ħafna iktar ċar.  Għandu wkoll il-potenzjal li jkun ħafna iktar effettiv.

Kull abbuż mis-serviżżi soċjali, barra milli huwa serq, huwa ukoll ta’ ħsara għal min verament għandu ħtieġa tal-għajnuna. Għax meta l-għajnuna soċjali jeħodha min mhux intitolat għaliha jfisser li jkun hemm inqas għajnuna li tista’ tintuża biex tgħin lil min hu verament dgħajjef. B’inqas abbużi huwa anke possibli li s-servizzi soċjali jkunu aħjar.

Huwa tajjeb li dan il-messaġġ tal-budget ikollu l-appoġġ ta’ kulħadd.

Iktar minn hekk huwa importanti li dawk kollha li jaħdmu f’dan il-qasam jifhmu li issa iktar minn qatt qabel għandhom l-appoġġ uffiċjali biex ikunu jistgħu jagħmlu xogħolhom aħjar. Qed ngħid dan għax ġieli smajt b’xi każi fil-passat fejn uffiċjali pubbliċi li għamlu xogħolhom u żammew milli japplika għal għajnuna soċjali lil min ma kien intitolat għaliha ġew mgħotija l-ġemb għax tqiesu li qed ifixklu!

Dan hu pass il-quddiem li għandu jwassal biex ikun hemm iktar riżorsi għal min hu dgħajjef verament.  B’hekk il-ġustizzja soċjali f’dan il-pajjiż tkun iktar effettiva.

Dom Mintoff

Il-mewt ta’ Dom Mintoff bla dubju tnissel ħafna reazzjonijiet.

Il-bniedem kien il-kawża ta’ kontroversji waqt ħajtu u bla dubju jibqa’ jkun ta’ kontroversji wara mewtu u dan għal snin twal.

Bosta, inkluż jien, kitbu dwaru u dwar il-ħidma tiegħu bi kritika għal din il-ħidma.

Għalkemm il-ħidma tiegħu kienet kontroversjali u bosta drabi b’metodi mhux aċċettabbli jibqa’ l-fatt innegabbli li Dom Mintoff għal snin twal ta’ servizz lill-Malta biex iġibha l-quddiem. Ta’ ħin u saħħtu għal iktar minn 50 sena u kompla fejn ħalla Pawlu Boffa fl-iżvilupp tas-servizzi soċjali.

L-aħħar kontribut politiku tiegħu wassal biex Malta daħlet fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Għal dan għad jibqgħulu grati l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.