Ensuring a guaranteed basic income

The need for a decent basic income is an all-time issue among those who have a social conscience. However, it assumes more importance in times like these, when prices of essential goods are spiralling upwards, almost out of control.

The perennial question is whether the income received by each person through employment (or a pension) should be sufficient or else whether such income derived from employment or a pension should be supplemented through a social wage, when, on its own, it is insufficient for ensuring a decent living.

Various jurisdictions are experimenting with this idea through pilot projects. As a result, they are seeking to reinforce a social net, protecting the vulnerable through ensuring that each is guaranteed a basic income irrespective of his or her circumstances in life. Each person has the right to have the basic means to ensure a decent life.

The basic facts should, by now, be clear to all.

The three Caritas studies published to date have revealed a widening gap between the official minimum wage and three different categories of vulnerable households.

In the case of a household consisting of 2 adults and 2 children this gap is approximately 40 per cent, at 2020 prices. In fairness it has to be clarified that this gap does not include the receipt of social solidarity income, amongst which children allowances and the various forms of supplementary social income which may be applicable to specific circumstances. When this is taken into account, I believe that in most cases the gap is substantially reduced.

The current price rise of essential goods, average close to a 25 per cent rise in a number of cases, (although a number of items have had much steeper price increases) brings to the fore another worry. Cost of living adjustments to wages and pensions are effective at the beginning of the year, and reflect the cost of living of the previous twelve months.

The last statutory cost of living increase has been of €1.75 per week, less than the cost of a cappuccino. During the past years such increases have varied from a €5.82 per week increase in 2010 to a €0.58 per week increase in 2015.

At times this increase is deemed to be too low as was the 2015 COLA adjustment.

It is essential that the basket of goods and services utilised to measure the actual cost of living is updated on a regular basis in order to ensure that the results obtained are realistic and reflect actual needs.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has over the past weeks emphasised that he is considering proposals to introduce a new form of COLA for low-income people. So far, however, nothing has materialised. The Minister has hinted that he is discussing various proposals behind closed doors. Would it not be a much better idea if the discussion is externalised? Everyone of us is interested in the proposals being drafted and discussed.

One possibility which should be considered is not to keep accumulating the cost-of-living dues and carry out adjustments to the minimum wage (and pensions) on the following January. It should be possible to carry out cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage as well as to pensions twice a year, towards the end of June and towards the end of December.  In times of steep price increases, as the present, such an initiative could make a substantial difference to the vulnerable and those on low income.

Ensuring that each has a basic decent income is a basic requirement in the development of the welfare state.

published Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 January 2022

A minimum income for a decent living

Within the European Union structures a debate has commenced on adequate minimum wages throughout the Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had stated on her appointment that she would be proposing a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in the Union has a fair minimum wage.

The consultation process within the EU was launched over one year ago. As a result, a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages has been finalised together with a number of supporting documents, including a 240 page long extensive impact assessment

In an explanatory memorandum published by the EU together with the text of the proposed Directive it is emphasised that “in the majority of EU Member States with national statutory minimum wages, minimum wages are too low vis-à-vis other wages or to provide a decent living even if they have increased in recent years.” In its impact assessment, the EU Commission calculated that an increase of national minimum wages according to the double decency threshold (60% of the median and 50% of the average wage) would improve the wages of around 25 million workers in Europe.

Malta is one such state with a low minimum wage which does not suffice, in particular, for vulnerable categories. A Caritas study published last Friday once more identifies short-comings of the minimum wage in Malta, when this is the only source of income for a number of vulnerable households.

The Caritas study entitled “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” follows previous studies published by Caritas in 2012 and 2016 as a result of which detailed research illustrates how the basic needs of vulnerable households, cannot be addressed if these households are dependent on one minimum wage as their only source of income.

The latest Caritas study concludes that a household comprising two adults and two children require €13947 annually as a minimum for a decent living, while if the household consists of a lone parent and two children this requirement drops to €11038. This is well below the 2021 statutory minimum wage which is currently €181.08 per week even if one also takes into consideration the June and December statutory bonus. On the other hand, the requirements of a household consisting of an elderly couple adds up to €8157 annually, concludes the Caritas study. This last figure, which is manageable, is however qualified in the Caritas report in that it may vary substantially due to the myriad of costs specific to the lifestyle and health status of the elderly.

The above excludes cases where the minimum wage earner needs to fork out expenses for a privately rented dwelling, in which case subsistence is practically impossible. The Caritas 2020 report emphasises that impact of the rent due “can dramatically affect the financial circumstances and quality of life of low-income households”.

The agreement signed by government with the social partners in 2017 as a result of which after one year in receipt of a minimum wage there are mandatory increases of €3 per week and an additional €3 per week after the second year, was a step forward and without doubt lessens the burdens of minimum wage earners. But this is certainly not enough. An overhaul of the method of calculation of the minimum wage is essential as this has to be reflective of real and actual needs. It has to be capable of sustaining a dignified living.

The recent news that the Maltese government is among the EU Member states which are objecting to EU legislation that would set up a framework regulating the minimum wage is worrying as the Maltese Government has been reluctant to take steps ensuring that the minimum wage is revised periodically to reflect actual needs. ADPD has long been advocating for this revision. However, the Labour government has repeatedly indicated that it was more interested in helping the wealthy get even wealthier. It was more interested in defending the crooks in its midst.

Our society needs to guarantee a basic income for all which is sufficient for a decent living. A number of countries are carrying out trials to identify the best way forward in this respect. The Universal Basic Income or UBI is being tested in a number of countries through pilot projects.

There is much to learn not just from these pilot projects. Malta’s Covid-19 wage supplement, for example, was a worthy initiative which merits further consideration. If properly applied it can form the basis of a long-term initiative to guarantee a minimum income for all. Obviously, it is easier said than done but we need to start some long-term planning which addresses the need to guarantee a minimum income for all thereby ensuring that all have access to sufficient resources to live a dignified life. This is the next step for the welfare state.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 February 2021

Bejn prinċipji u strateġija

 Jeremy Corbyn PMQT


L-elezzjoni ta’ Jeremy Corbyn bħala mexxej tal-Partit Laburista Ingliż heżżet mill-qiegħ il-politika Inġliża. Ħolqot ukoll dibattitu dwar kemm jagħmel sens għal-laburiżmu Inġliż li jagħti iktar każ tal-egħruq tiegħu ħafna iktar milli għamel sal-lum.

F’nofs il-kampanja għall-mexxej laburista, seħħ fatt li kellu impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-kampanja. Il-Gvern Ingliż ressaq għad-diskussjoni fil-House of Commons liġi dwar is-serviżżi soċjali imsejħa l-Welfare Bill.   L-aġent mexxej tal-Laburisti Ingliżi, Harriet Harman, tat direttiva lill-grupp parlamentari biex jastjeni meta issr il-votazzjoni fl-istadju tat-tieni qari. L-abbozz ta’ liġi hi parti minn strateġija tal-Gvern konservattiv Ingliż biex jibda jżarma l-welfare state. Il-partit laburista Ingliż ħassu f’morsa.

Imma 48 mill-Membri Parlamentari Laburisti sfidaw id-direttiva tal-Partit tagħhom u xorta ivvutaw kontra. Fosthom kien hemm Jeremy Corbyn, l-unika wieħed mill-erba’ kandidati għat-tmexxija li għamel hekk. L-oħrajn baxxew rashom.

Ma kinitx l-ewwel darba għal Jeremy Corbyn li rribella u għamel ta’ rasu waqt votazzjoni. Milli qrajt, din l-istorja għamilha madwar 533 darba kemm ilu membru parlamentari, f’mumenti fejn fuq punt ta’ prinċipju dehrlu li kellu jivvota differenti.

Il-Partit Laburista Ingliż issa huwa mmexxi minn ribell. Għax irribella kull meta l-kuxjenza iddettatlu linja differenti minn dik tal-partit, Corybn hu bniedem li japprezza iktar il-valur tad-diskussjoni interna fil-partit. Diskussjoni li tibda mill-egħruq u titla’ l-fuq ftit ftit sakemm twassal għal deċiżjoni. Dan jikkuntrasta ħafna mal-mod kif ħafna drabi jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fil-politika: jittieħdu fuq nett, u jkunu imposti fuq l-egħruq.

Dan kollu jagħti kredibilità ikbar lil Jeremy Corbyn fl-argumenti li żviluppa waqt il-kampanja għat-tmexxija dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ demokratizzazzjoni ikbar tal-partit. Irnexxielu jimmotiva ħafna nies u kulħadd jattribwixxi lilu, l-mewġa kbira ta’ membri ġodda li resqu lejn il-Partit Laburista Ingliż f’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat.

Dawn huma kollha persuni li emmnu li Jeremy Corbyn irid li l-Partit Laburista Ingliż, ikun il-partit li jismagħhom kif ukoll li jkun il-vuċi tagħhom. Wegħda li irnexxielu jimplimenta fl-ewwel ġranet tiegħu bħala mexxej bil-mod sempliċi imma dinjituż kif ħa sehem fil-Prime Minister’s Question Time nhar l-Erbgħa. Irċieva ‘il fuq minn 40,000 e-mail bi proposti u mistoqsijiet li minnhom għażel sitta dwar temi ta’ politika soċjali attwali fir-Renju Unit.

Corbyn ġie elett għax wassal messaġġ ċar dwar l-awtentiċità politika tiegħu: li hu jaġixxi skond dak li jemmen u mhux skond kif jaqbel.

Il-Partit Laburista Inġliż għandu dilemma li għadu ma sabx mod kif isolviha mingħajr ma jxellef dak li jemmen. Ix-xellug Ingliż hu maqsum u huwa rappreżentat minn diversi partiti. Dan hu ppenalizzat mis-sistema elettorali Ingliża tal-first past the post, fejn il-Ħodor, per eżempju, kisbu miljun vot, imma siġġu parlamentari wieħed fil-waqt li l-partit skoċċiż SNP b’ftit inqas minn miljun u nofs vot ikkonċentrati fl-Iskozja rebħu 56 siġġu parlamentari.

Rapport dwar l-elezzjoni ġenerali Ingliżi ta’ Mejju li għadda ippubblikat din il-ġimgħa u intitolat “Learning the right lessons from Labour’s 2015 defeat” jidentifika, fost l-oħrajn, li l-voti li l-Labour Ingliż rebaħ f’xi kostitwenzi mingħand kandidati liberali swew biex dawn tilfu s-siġġu u dan intrebaħ mill-Partit Konservattiv. Dan ġara f’numru ta’ kostitwenzi u spiċċa biex dgħajjef lill-allejati potenzjali tal-Partit Laburista Ingliż.

Dan trid tarah fid-dawl tar-riżultati elettorali miksuba tul is-snin fejn qabel ma tfaċċa Tony Blair, il-Labour Ingliż, meta rebaħ, għamel dan bit-tqanżieh. Blair kien rebaħ b’mod komdu tlett elezzjonijiet wara xulxin. Dan sar għax Blair trasforma l-Partit Laburista Ingliż minn wieħed ibbażat fuq twemmin soċjalista għal wieħed fejn iktar ta’ importanza lill-politika neo-liberali b’mod li għal żmien mhux qasir, ma kienx jingħaraf mill-Partit Konservattiv Ingliż. Fi ftit kliem, bosta jqiesu li l-Partit Laburista Ingliż fi żmien Tony Blair biegħ ruħu.

Din hi l-bidla mill-qiegħ li tfisser l-elezzjoni ta’ Jeremy Corbyn. Il-Partit Laburista Ingliż irid ruħu lura!

L-ideat ta’ Corbyn ġew imfissra min uħud bħala li jikkundannaw lill-Partit Laburista Ingliż għal snin twal fl-Opposizzjoni. Għax għal dawn, dak li temmen huwa sekondarju. L-importanza hi fl-istrateġija, fis-soundbites u fil-komunikazzjoni orkestrata u mhux fl-awtentiċità politika tat-tmexxija.

Issa ma rridx li ninftiehem ħazin: il-metodu kif il-politiku jikkomunika huwa importanti ħafna. Peró m’għandux u qatt mhu meħtieġ li jkunu sagrifikati l-prinċipji fuq l-altar tal-popolarità.

Din hi l-isfida li għandu quddiemu Jeremy Corbyn. Iżda hi sfida li jista’ jegħliba minkejja l-antagoniżmu tal-grupp parlamentari li hu mdawwar bih. Iċ-ċavetta jsibha, mhux biss fl-għeruq tal-partit li tawh l-appoġġ massiċċ tagħhom imma ukoll billi jibni pontijiet ma dawk il-partiti politiċi li jqarrbu l-iktar lejn l-ideat u l-idejali tiegħu. Għax hu possibli li l-prinċipji u l-istrateġija jimxu id f’id.


ippubblikat fuq Illum, il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2015

Dom: a giant surrounded by pygmies

Much has been written in the past days on Dom Mintoff. On his service to the nation. On his values. On his methods. On his achievements.

In what we write we ought to be respectful. Not just to Dom, the man and his memory. We must also respect  ourselves. We must be factual.

We cannot respect the man  if we have no self respect!

His first positive contribution was in the development of the tools of  social solidarity,  determined to ensure that all had access to the basic essentials. He did this initially with Sir Paul Boffa his predecessor as Labour Leader. It was Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state through the introduction of Old Age Pensions and Income Tax to finance them!  Years earlier Boffa had prodded Gerald Strickland through the Compact to construct St Luke’s Hospital.  Boffa has been sidelined in the past 50 years when in reality it was he who should get the credit for founding the welfare state in Malta. Dom built on Boffa’s solid foundations, widening and deepening social services in the process.

His second positive was his determination that independence be translated into Maltese absolute control of the islands and their strategic infrastructure. This contrasted with Borg Olivier’s more gradual approach.  His negotiations shocked the nation as it was the first time that a Maltese politician stood up and spoke what they had in mind. In his last mass meeting before the 1971 general elections, held  at Marsa,  Mintoff had stated in very clear terms what he had in mind. It was time for Britain to pay up or pack up.

Lord Carrington then Defence Secretary in Edward Heath’s Cabinet states in his memoirs that negotiating with Dom was tough business. He realised “that there was also calculation in every Mintoff mood.”  Mintoff’s moods noted Carrington, would alternate “between periods of civilised charm and spasms of strident and hysterical abuse.”

Dom also opened a third front. He rightly felt the need for a separation of Church and State. It was, and still is  an area which requires much attention. It was much worse 50 years ago with an unelected archbishop-prince wielding political power unwittingly aiding  the colonial masters. Divide and rule was the British policy in its colonies. This front has been the cause of various scars (political and social), still not sufficiently healed.  It was violence from unexpected quarters which multiplied the political problems which each government has had to tackle since.

In his endeavours Dom was undoubtedly influenced by his direct experiences.  His witnessing of abject poverty during his childhood, his youth and immediate post war years formed his vision for developing the welfare state which had been painfully plotted by Sir Paul Boffa.

Having a foreign power controlling any square metre of significance on the islands was too much to bear for someone with Dom’s temperament. His father’s employment in the service of Lord Louis Mountbatten undoubtedly added to the significance of it all and to his determination to make a clean sweep.

It would be dishonest to ignore the above.

It would be however similarly dishonest to ignore the fact that his stewardship was also characterised by arrogance and bullying. It was characterised by organs of the state which sought to protect abusive behaviour. The long list of cases wherein Dom’s government and his most trusted Ministers were found guilty of infringing human rights is there for all to see. None of them was ever forced to resign. This is also part of Dom’s contribution to the development of  post 1964 Malta.

Anyone ever tried to identify the number of victims, some with a one way ticket to l-Addolorata Cemetery?

Former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi in an interview carried in The Sunday Times on March 25, 2012 stated: “I remember one time when someone mentioned something to him about corruption. He turned to me and said, ‘is it true?’ I replied: ‘That what’s people are saying’. His response was: ‘What can I do if that person has helped me to build up the party? Can I take action against him?’ You see, this is small Malta.”

That is Dom, the giant surrounded by pygmies: those who helped him build his party and then proceeded to squeeze it dry until the pips squealed.

Respecting Dom also means self-respect. Respect  the facts.  When this is done we can give the man his due.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom’s legacy

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

Dom’s legacy

During his lifetime Dom Mintoff  elicited extreme reactions ranging from adulation to extreme spite. Some lit candles in front of his images. In contrast others insisted  for his metaphoric crucifixion during the 1980s mass meetings.

The man certainly had a vision.  As he himself stated one of his priorities was the removal of those cobwebs in which Maltese society was entrapped. Removing these cobwebs finely spun and protected for years on end by conservatives was no mean feat. It is still work in progress.  It certainly required the skills and the stamina of a bulldozer which Dom did not lack.

Unfortunately at times his skills were misapplied. Those same bullying skills which were appropriately applied when confronting the colonising power were certainly out of place when applied against the Maltese population, at least that part of the population which disagreed with his ideas and methods.

Those hovering around him were at times more focused on their interests than on ensuring that he was properly  advised. This certainly showed as the better elements left the ranks of his party. Some went quietly, others with a bang. It is not appropriate at this point to quote chapter and verse. It has been done elsewhere. It is however not appropriate to just sing the praises of the man. He must be remembered in his human form, warts and all.

His political service spanned half a century during which he left his mark. He started off with his predecessor Sir Paul Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state when Labour was first in government after the landslide electoral victory of 1947. In later governments which he led Dom built on Boffa’s foundations widening and deepening the welfare state.

The man found comfort in the company of dictators. In fact he was a frequent visitor to their courts. His friends included Muammar Gaddafi, Nikolai Caucescu, Todor Zhivkov, Kim Il Sung. He was certainly inspired by Gamal Nasser’s Arabic Nationalism  which coincided with his first term as Prime Minister and his resignation in 1958.

The man’s legacy will be determined in the long term when the impact of his negative methods will have subsided. Then history will acknowledge Dom’s contribution to the formation of Malta’s identity as well as to the acceptance of social solidarity as an essential objective of good politics.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?