Bud­get­ing for so­cial well­be­ing

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

An open let­ter to Gov­ern­ment:

The Fac­ulty for So­cial Well­be­ing at the Univer­sity of Malta en­cour­ages gov­ern­ment to con­sider the widest plethora of ini­tia­tives pos­si­ble to fos­ter the well­be­ing of Mal­tese so­ci­ety – par­tic­u­larly those who are most vul­ner­a­ble and at risk of poverty and so­cial malaise; go­ing beyond the req­ui­site mon­e­tary mea­sures and en­sur­ing con­tin­u­ous re­form in the pro­vi­sion of so­cial wel­fare services.

As re­searchers and prac­ti­tion­ers amongst all sec­tors of Mal­tese so­ci­ety, we en­counter chil­dren, young peo­ple, fam­i­lies and pen­sion­ers who live in dire con­di­tions, who are marginalised and dis­en­fran­chised, fac­ing chal­lenges that weigh down on their lives and ex­clude them from the gen­eral well­be­ing of the coun­try. We feel that, fol­low­ing the eco­nomic growth recorded dur­ing the past years, it is time for the gov­ern­ment to take con­crete and bold ac­tions to en­sure that the wealth that is be­ing gen­er­ated is widely en­joyed, em­pow­er­ing all peo­ple not only fi­nan­cially but in all as­pects of their gen­eral well­be­ing. We also en­cour­age the gov­ern­ment to pro­mote and en­hance the con­di­tions of the prac­ti­tion­ers that ded­i­cate their time, en­ergy and com­mit­ment to­wards the well­be­ing of these peo­ple, and in­vest in more re­sources and sup­port to en­able these prac­ti­tion­ers to ex­tend their reach, pro­vide fur­ther services and con­se­quently achieve bet­ter re­sults for the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity.

Reit­er­at­ing its com­mit­ment to­wards more re­search and an ac­tive role in the com­mu­nity, the Fac­ulty for So­cial Well­be­ing em­pha­sises the need for a truly in­clu­sive com­mu­nity, where so­cial jus­tice, rights and a col­lec­tive sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity are the pil­lars that en­sure the true growth of our coun­try, not just in terms of ma­te­rial wealth but in terms of the well­be­ing of ev­ery in­di­vid­ual as a hu­man be­ing and a cit­i­zen.

The Pre-Bud­get Doc­u­ment of 2017 looks beyond the sta­tis­tics and ma­te­rial un­der­stand­ing of pros­per­ity by ac­knowl­edg­ing that “eco­nomic growth on its own is not enough to en­hance pros­per­ity for all groups in so­ci­ety”. It at­tempts to break the le­gacy of a re­ac­tive wel­fare sys­tem, thus re­in­forc­ing other re­cent na­tional pol­icy ef­forts such as early child­care pro­vi­sion, the pend­ing over­haul of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence leg­is­la­tion, and the Draft Na­tional Al­co­hol Pol­icy cur­rently un­der­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion.

This lends cred­i­bil­ity and sub­stance to the claimed achieve­ments that, on a macro level, the coun­try’s “econ­omy and the pub­lic fi­nances con­tin­ued mov­ing along their re­spec­tive pos­i­tive trends” and that 5,000 per­sons es­caped the clutches of se­vere ma­te­rial de­pri­va­tion.

How­ever, sto­ries in the daily media cast a shadow. 68,000 peo­ple still live in house­holds whose in­comes put them on poverty line,, neg­a­tively af­fect­ing their chances of so­cial in­clu­sion. Not only do some groups ben­e­fit far more than oth­ers, but some also ben­e­fit at the ex­pense of oth­ers. This sug­gests the need for a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to em­pow­er­ment – not only of in­di­vid­ual, ma­te­rial progress but of true eman­ci­pa­tion based not only on the rem­edy of deficits but which ad­dress di­verse and in­ter­sect­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, such as a com­mu­nity’s ag­ing pop­u­la­tion or mi­gra­tion in­flux.

In prac­tice, mea­sures such as early child­care pro­vi­sion make poor fi­nan­cial and fam­i­lyfriendly in­cen­tives, un­less cou­pled with op­tional ex­ten­sions to cur­rent pro­vi­sions of paid and un­paid parental leave; in­vest­ment in pub­lic trans­port will fail to coun­ter­act over­re­liance on pri­vate trans­port, un­less cou­pled to flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments in pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors; and while post-sec­ondary and ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tional pro­vi­sions may be very successful at fos­ter­ing state of the art niche tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, they need also to fos­ter in­ter­dis­ci­plinary and crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties. A fail­ure to do the lat­ter would be par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing at a time when Malta rightly flag­ships in­clu­sion­ary ci­ti­zen­ship rights with the nec­es­sary le­gal and pol­icy re­forms ad­dress­ing in­clu­sion of gen­der iden­ti­ties and, any­time soon, ex­tend­ing vot­ing rights to the younger cit­i­zen co­horts.

In this con­text, the roles of com­mu­ni­ties and civil so­ci­ety re­quire a pro­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Re­search in Malta cor­rob­o­rates the prom­ise of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tion to this end, though it re­quires in­ter­de­pen­dency and co­or­di­na­tion within and be­tween state and civil so­ci­ety to coun­ter­act a ‘cul­ture of in­er­tia’ that in­hibits mo­men­tum to­wards more sus­tain­able life­styles. This ap­plies at the lev­els of ge­o­graph­i­cal and spa­tial com­mu­ni­ties, but also among on­line, pro­fes­sional and other niche com­mu­ni­ties and broader Mal­tese so­ci­ety.

Con­se­quently, we rec­om­mend that the gov­ern­ment takes into con­sid­er­a­tion the fol­low­ing:

The Fac­ulty calls for the on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of pro­fes­sion­als in the so­cial care sec­tor con­sid­er­ing it as im­per­a­tive, as is the ur­gent need to ad­dress the lack of hu­man re­sources in cru­cial sec­tors like child pro­tec­tion, ad­dic­tions, men­tal health and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

The Fac­ulty calls upon the gov­ern­ment to give pri­or­ity to mea­sures that en­hance the so­cial well­be­ing of our com­mu­nity, en­sur­ing that so­cial jus­tice is both a clear goal and a pol­icy achieve­ment.

The Fac­ulty en­cour­ages ini­tia­tives that pro­mote and con­tinue to as­cer­tain the in­volve­ment of the third sec­tor and NGOs that pro­vide key­stone services in the area are also re­quired, with an em­pha­sis on bud­get ini­tia­tives that fa­cil­i­tate and en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of NGO-based ser­vice pro­vi­sion.

The Fac­ulty en­cour­ages gov­ern­ment to take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to en­sure that the much awaited Child Pol­icy (cur­rently un­der­go­ing pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion) and the strate­gic mea­sures that it is pro­ject­ing reach fruition.

The Fac­ulty looks for­ward to the forth­com­ing over­haul of the do­mes­tic vi­o­lence leg­is­la­tion and com­mends re­sources for its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The Fac­ulty en­cour­ages gov­ern­ment to pro­vide an up­date of progress on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Green Pa­per on Poverty, and on the cur­rent sta­tus of the mi­grant in­te­gra­tion pol­icy.

The Fac­ulty urges gov­ern­ment to re­view and up­date poli­cies and ser­vice pro­vi­sion in other piv­otal sec­tors in­clud­ing cor­rec­tions, youth jus­tice, crime pre­ven­tion, youth pol­icy, dis­abil­ity, the aged and fam­ily pol­icy.

A multi-pronged, trans­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach is re­quired to en­sure that the la­cu­nae in this sec­tor are ad­dressed for the longterm ben­e­fit of Mal­tese so­ci­ety.

I would like to ac­knowl­edge the fol­low­ing aca­demics for their con­tri­bu­tion to this ar­ti­cle: Dr Al­bert Bell, Dr Maria Brown and Mr Aleks Far­ru­gia.

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