The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Crumbling old bastions

Sunday, 26 September 2021, 08:39 Last update: about 28 days ago

Julia Farrugia Portelli

As far as social inclusion and well-being are concerned, there could have been no better display of this government’s sense of purpose than this week’s elaboration to the media of the New Hope Guarantee. The scheme is yet another breach into the old bastions of the inherent exclusion and blatant injustice that for centuries had kept persons with a disability from leading a deserved normal life within a caring and equal society.

As the bastions crumble, we continue to build a permanent platform based on a new national and European awareness. While we look at this process as a continuing work in progress, for circumstances and proportions will always vary in human life just as much as new challenges crop up and new solutions emerge, it is through such action that we can ensure inclusion and social well-being are not mere words for manifestos.

Rather than resorting to a past of lip service, we have, since 2013 and 2017, chosen to identify those time-honoured bastions of exclusion and prejudice that needed dismantling and moving into with a commitment aimed solely at bringing to fruition all that we had promised. That we had all the stakeholders, from the persons with a disability themselves to their families and supporting NGOs, involved in the whole process was perhaps the secret of our success thus far.

It is now finally possible for a person with a disability to obtain an insurance policy on his or her desired property, thanks only to a government guarantee covering up to a maximum of €250,000 on what would be a primary residence. No longer will a person with a disability or medical condition be made to feel unwanted or overlooked as he or she seeks to build both a family and a future. Being a full and participating part of society and the thriving local communities they live in is, for these persons, a new and exciting reality which we intend to support and perpetrate further.

Instilling hope and a keener sense of direction is actually the basis of the New Hope Scheme as it not only fills yet another old gap in the conscience of the nation, but helps merge a minority into the majority, hence giving roots to the process of inclusion and social well-being through facts and deeds. There are of course many other such examples that result from our work during the past eight years, but this is, no doubt, another jewel added to the crown of a Labour government under Robert Abela.

What has always been a routine achievement for many Maltese and Gozitan citizens – to become home owners – is, today, possible too all, regardless of status or physical and medical condition. To have your government offering you this opportunity to establish an anchoring point in your life as you head optimistically into the future is an assurance your dream, as that of any other, can truly come true.

The removal of this centuries-old anomaly did not happen by chance. To give credit where due, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) had long been working at finding ways of finally dismantling the unjustified fortifications that commercial banks and insurers operated behind, and, in the process, denying a section of our population the prospect of owning their own homes and moving ahead with life. It did so through sheer determination, including in their groundwork a series of consultations with foreign entities and individuals in the sector.

A CRPD plan was eventually submitted to government and an inter-ministerial group was set up to draft, present and implement the New Hope Guarantee. Again, the prevalent feature in all this was our sense of purpose and a unified approach to breach the bastions of old, what many would have thought to be unassailable. It is only natural that the CRPD will also be involved in the process of certifying the eligibility of applicants to the scheme as it evolves and becomes a permanent element of Maltese 21st century society. This will also act as a warranty against abuse of the new scheme which will of course deal strictly with genuine cases, allowing no space for fraudsters and theatrics.

We can at last say that through the elimination of this anamoly, commercial banks, insurers and all those who use their services are part of an equal society in which no one is barred from participating as a consumer with rightful access to the property market. Government has offered a shoulder that would ease the burden on a minority of persons who can truly believe in belonging to society as a whole.

As bastions fall, more skirmishes will be needed to confront those which still stand. Social inclusion and well-being are no mere slogans, but issues that will continue to offer challenges to society in general and governments in particular. We know we have achieved a lot in what is a relatively short period of time, but there is no resting on our laurels for as long as there are more anomalies to deal with in making inclusion and equality a permanent and recognised attribute of Maltese society.

Julia Farrugia Portelli is minister for Inclusion and Social Wellbeing

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