The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime - Aristotle

Gejtu Vella Tuesday, 24 March 2015, 07:50 Last update: about 6 years ago

Poverty, the poverty trap, at risk of poverty and social exclusion are terms which are used frequently.  I am certain that, on most occasions, people unfortunately do not give the importance this issue deserves.  

Nigeria’s population is 160 million and is divided into numerous ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. Nigeria ranks in the 136thposition,out of 175 countries, in the corruption index. Malta’s population is less than half a million and is mainly divided into two major political forces. Malta ranks in 43rd place in the corruption index.

Nigeria is situated in southern Africa, Malta in Europe.  Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer yet poverty is widespread despite the country’s recent economic boom years. According to a World Bank report, around two-thirds of the population in Nigeria are living in absolute poverty without basic needs like food, safe drinking water and shelter. Malta is the smallest country in the EU. People at risk of poverty or social exclusion reached 24%. While the segment of people who experience at least four of the following forms of deprivation - not able to: pay their utility bills, keep their home adequately warm, face unexpected expenses, eat meat, fish or a protein equivalent every second day, enjoy a week’s holiday away from home once a year, have a car, have a washing machine, have a colour TV, or have a telephone - have increased to 10% in 2013 from 4% in 2008. 

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre has just released its latest research on poverty.  According to its report, around one billion people continue to live in poverty worldwide. In 1990, people living in poverty stood at around 1.9 billion. In the past fifteen years, this figure has been halved. These figures are very encouraging as more people around the world have better access to education and healthcare.

In Malta, the issue of the pensions’adequacy and sustainability must be addressed.  The introduction of the third-pillar voluntary pension scheme, which is being promoted to ensure adequate retirement income, is a step in the right direction. What have not been addressed are the significant concerns of the middle-class and the wide stream of low-income workers with a reduced propensity to save for later years. Future generations will be divided into two clusters: Those who can financially support themselves and the rest who have limited or no financial resources. The middle-class will be suppressed.

Poverty in Nigeria cannot in anyway be compared to the increased number of persons troubled with the erosion in their standard of living and their quality of lifein Malta. In Nigeria, it is absolute poverty. In Malta, it is the poverty trap and social exclusion. Locally, people living relatively comfortably at times tend to perceive the poverty trap, in its various forms, as an issue which is not in their backyard. Others are quick to point fingers at the under privileged, and blame them for not making that extra effort to alleviate their daily hardships.

To compound matters,Government has recently decided to give in to various “elite pressures” to stop different forms of assistance, in cash or in kind, for various reasons. The implementation of this measure should be monitored closely, as the effects of this draconian action will impact negatively on society.

The introduction of the compulsory second pillar could provide a more adequate coverage to people reaching retiring age. Time has come to start thinking about a pensions’ fund, possibly administered by financial experts in consultation with the Ministry of Finance and the social partners.

A portion of the revenue streams generated from the €200million health project announced recently and that gained from the IIP should be tapped for financing the pension’s fund initially. Unless that is, these are politically motivated ploys. 

Creating socially just safety-nets should be a priority for all political parties and the social partners. Pensioners, receiving €550 every four weeks, are pushed into poverty. Hopefully political parties can make a difference.

***

Saviour Grech surrendered bravely, but not without a fight, to his ailing health condition. Saviour and I had crossed paths during my time at the UHM. Saviour has walked the walk and talked the talk, come rain or shine. Saviour was one of a dying breed, a true gentleman. Grazzi ta’ kollox Salv.

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