The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Social justice – a call for action

Sunday, 18 February 2024, 06:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Laurence Grech

Cheap labour, exploitation of foreign workers, especially Third World nationals, the loneliness suffered by elderly in homes, unaffordable housing and living costs, racial discrimination, poverty despite full employment… these are some of the social injustices bedevilling Maltese society.

The International Monetary Fund, in its annual assessment of Malta’s economy published on January 30, said that Malta’s “impressive” recovery from the pandemic has also brought about greater pressures on the country’s infrastructure and a rise in income inequality.

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The report noted how Malta’s post-pandemic recovery was largely supported by “large inflows of foreign workers, allowing rapid labour force growth”.

The IMF observed that income inequality and poverty risk appear to be on the rise, with the elderly population showing signs of being increasingly at risk since the pandemic.

The rate of income inequality -- or the gap between high and low earners -- has risen above the EU average since the pandemic, the IMF said. Meanwhile, the overall risk of poverty is similar to that in the rest of the bloc at around 17%.

And the Anti-Poverty Forum, a grouping of 17 NGOs working in the social field in Malta, while welcoming the government’s efforts to “encourage” businesses to reduce the prices of daily basic necessities, called for changes in the government’s policy of subsidising energy for all.

It argued that well-off persons tend to consume more energy as they tend to live in larger houses and with more appliances at home. “Since energy is being subsidised for everyone, well-off people are being subsidised more than those who really need to be subsidised. Consequently, the available subsidies are not reaching those people who need them most. Schemes can be put in place where subsidies are means-tested, and therefore directed exclusively towards supporting low-income earners," the forum said.

It also pointed out that a reduction of energy subsidies across the board would also contribute towards a cleaner environment, enticing a reduction in consumption.

Issues contributing to social inequality will be discussed in a week of activities being organised by the Nationalist Party, starting with a round table event at the Opposition’s office in Parliament tomorrow at 9.30am. The round table will discuss extracts of an address made by Pope St John Paul II to the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1995, calling for a new Universal Declaration dealing with the rights of nations, particularly as affected by migration, mass media and globalisation, and upholding peace, solidarity, justice and freedom.

On Tuesday morning a meeting with the NGO “Smiling with Jerome” will be held at Ronald McDonald Learning Centre, Triq il-Wileġ, Qawra. The NGO concerns itself with the welfare of about 100 children with special needs or serious illness, and also helps needy families. Jerome, a youth who died of cancer aged 20, had a positive influence on all those who knew him. The NGO was set up in his memory after his death in 2017.

On Wednesday, Nationalist MP Ivan Bartolo, Shadow Minister for Housing and Pensions, will be presenting a Private Member’s Bill at the Parliament building.

Bartolo says he is grateful to those who strive to promote equality and social justice, and especially to those who anonymously donate organs to save lives, or those who bequeath their bodies for medical purposes after death.

He mentions, as an example, the case of Marie Therese Pisani, who died tragically in September 2022, and whose organs helped to save the lives of ten persons on the courageous initiative of her parents, Carmen and Joe Pisani. This, he says, is an example of social justice.

Bartolo also pays tribute to his friend Simon Galea, who was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Simon passed away a few months ago, but he inspired the Bill which Bartolo is presenting.  The Bill proposes the introduction of an opt-out document to be signed by those who refuse to donate their organs after death. As things stand, those who wish to donate their organs after death have to sign an opt-in form.

Donating one’s organs after death should be encouraged as a gesture of solidarity, Bartolo argues, while guarding against the commercialisation of organs. The donation of organs meets a social need, as they will always be needed despite advances in medical treatment. It is also a supreme example of generosity towards one’s fellow human beings. Organ donation is an excellent example of defending and promoting life.

The week will be concluded with a conference on social justice on Thursday from 9 am to 1.30 pm at the House of Representatives, which will be presided over by Speaker Anġlu Farrugia.

The conference will focus on various aspects of social justice, including affordable housing, the widening social gap -- of which the growing demand faced by food banks and soup kitchens is a glaring example – and even homelessness.

One unfortunate result of the growing presence of poorly paid third world nationals in Malta is overcrowded rental accommodation which they cannot afford. And there is a long waiting list for subsidised social housing, leading quite a few people to seek accommodation in garages, for example.

Quite a few cases of homelessness are caused by domestic violence, where the victims are mostly women, or by financial problems in the case of men. It is estimated that Maltese citizens make up 53 per cent of the total number of homeless persons in Malta.

All these problems mean that more social workers are needed. The few social workers currently employed by the government cannot possibly cope with the growing number of cases demanding their attention, while more social housing is needed.

Unless the right decisions are taken and the proper investment is made, the Nationalist Party believes that poverty will rise, paradoxically despite the country’s economic growth. Social justice demands a call for action.

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