We are long past the day when charity was the only help available for those in need and the vulnerable! Over the past days I have come across a number of comments on the social media pointing out that if we pay taxes there is no room for charity. These comments emphasise that our taxes, funding the welfare state, should be enough to assist those in need and the vulnerable. Unfortunately, reality is quite a different matter, as we can see day in day out.
The welfare state may be just enough for the average person. But it is not sufficient, as no one fits the average person! The welfare state, as most other state initiatives, is generally a one size fits all exercise, supplemented in specific circumstances.
Individual and institutional charitable acts and initiatives supplement and buttress the welfare state. This has been going on for years. In fact, charity and charitable institutions preceded the advent of social services by many years. Unfortunately, it has been identified, over the years, that a number of people slip through the protective net of the welfare state. In such instances charity and the initiatives of charitable institutions are indispensable.
Christmas time, the solidarity season, is when all this comes to the fore. L-Istrina on Boxing Day, the Franciscan soup kitchen initiative in Valletta, the Siġġiewi Dar tal-Providenza, Hospice Malta and Puttinu Cares are some of the very worthy charitable initiatives which over the years have bridged the gap and reached many of the neglected corners of social needs in Malta.
It is right to supplement the welfare state in the short term. However, in the longer term, the welfare state should be tweaked in order that its reach is extended to the neglected corners which are identified from time to time.
One can say that, in a sense, charity and charitable institutions are the red light which indicate areas where the welfare state has so far failed to make a difference.
Personalisation of welfare, when this is possible, generally makes the difference on the effectiveness of welfare.
Consider, for example, the Franciscan soup kitchen initiative which has been launched in the past months in Valletta. It started off as a soup kitchen providing a hot meal to those who need it: some 90 persons every day. The availability of facilities for taking a shower as well as the services of a psychologist are being added, as a result addressing this basic neglect of human dignity which our effluent society has developed. In the process it may be possible to identify, and in some cases address the root cause as a result of which, some of us are not being protected by the welfare net.
L-Istrina on Boxing Day funds the Community Chest Fund, now incorporated as a foundation. The Community Chest Fund, under the direction of the Presidency of the Republic, throughout the year supplements the gaps of the health authorities, primarily through funding expensive medication and supplementing the assistance received from the state by those seeking medical treatment abroad.
Apparently, I am informed, the Community Chest Fund is no longer distributing white goods nor is it offering scholarships. Fortunately, the Presidency has the capability of learning through the mistakes of its past occupants.
On the other hand, the health authorities should pull their socks and start shouldering the expense due for these expensive medicines. Is not this why taxes are paid? Should the health service be reliant on charitable donations in the long run?
This leads to one crucial issue: taxation. Parliamentary political parties have for some years been competing in dishing out promises of tax reductions. It has to be underlined that without adequate funding the welfare state cannot keep up with the needs of the vulnerable and the neglected amongst us.
Taxes have to be reasonable but they have to be collected. Addressing adequately tax evasion, including that encouraged by the state, would go a long way in funding the welfare state gaps.
This would not eliminate the need for charity and charitable institutions. They are here to stay, being an integral part of our society. Rather, they will have more time and resources to identify and address other areas which the welfare state, inadvertently, ignores or neglects.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 January 2022