The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Budget 2019 - Homelessness must be tackled, fast

Saturday, 8 September 2018, 11:15 Last update: about 3 months ago

Homelessness in Malta is an issue which needs to be tackled, and fast. Having people, Maltese or foreign, sleep on a park bench, or under a gazebo in the street is not acceptable.

With the increase in property prices, the current rent prices, and rising food prices over the past years, the fear is that those on the lower-end of the income scale would no longer be able to cope.

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Recently, Yana Mintoff, who drafted a 10-year anti-poverty strategy for the government some years back, said that Malta’s economy is built on cheap labour and precarious work. A very worrying statement from a former socialist Prime Minister’s daughter, yet reports of people living in garages, and the recent news item regarding 100 migrants who were living on a cow farm bring this reality to light.

Those working lower-end jobs cannot keep up. Government has embarked on a social housing building project, yet how will this end, with more and more people living in government housing? Is that really the future we want?

We have to ask ourselves: would it be easy for us to admit that we are unable to keep up with the day to day costs? Those in social housing are there because they were unable to, but admitting it must have been no easy task.

When one works but is unable to keep up with the cost of day to day life, then there is a serious problem. Recently, Eurostat said that the price of food and non-alcoholic drinks in Malta have risen significantly since 2000.

The Housing Authority CEO Leonid McKay, while believing that rent prices do contribute to homelessness, argues that it is not the main factor.  He says that the main factor relates to changes in the local welfare model. He said that “if you want to understand homelessness, you need to understand the erosion of community life, of social ties and of family. The role of the family in the provision of care is lessening, and many of these people do not have social ties on which to rely. Further studies on this need to be carried out.”

As such, studies on this issue should be made a priority by government. Nevertheless, government is also looking at the rent situation, and has said it will introduce rent regulation. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said that government will not propose things not seen in other countries. "But the time has come to create more stability in prices and certainty in the market." He said that at the same time, government wants to give new rights and duties to land owners.

This could potentially be one way of handling the situation, but the Prime Minister would need to be careful so as not to create a situation where small-time property owners end up struggling more than big-time property developers.

One would hope that in the upcoming budget, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, the government will at least try to address some of these issues, instead of just harping on about how good the numbers look on paper.

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