Pros­per­ity with so­cial jus­tice

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Justyne Caru­ana

Dr Caru­ana is Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for the Rights of Peo­ple with Dis­abil­ity and Ac­tive Age­ing

The bud­get for 2017 to be pre­sented to­mor­row by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ed­ward Sci­cluna will al­low the gov­ern­ment to con­sol­i­date its po­si­tion with­out los­ing what it has al­ready gained. The gov­ern­ment’s aim is to fur­ther re­duce the deficit, while main­tain­ing its so­cial con­science and guar­an­tee­ing a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing for ev­ery­one.

To­mor­row’s bud­get pro­pos­als

This bud­get will tar­get ‘pros­per­ity with so­cial jus­tice’, which means that the gov­ern­ment will re­duce the deficit fur­ther while main­tain­ing a so­cial con­science and guar­an­tee­ing a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing for ev­ery­one. The so­cial part­ners have sub­mit­ted their pro­pos­als, mak­ing their rec­om­men­da­tions to the Fi­nance Min­is­ter as to what should be a pri­or­ity. The Op­po­si­tion too came up with their last minute sug­ges­tions, prov­ing they are some­how obliv­i­ous of the real state of the econ­omy or, al­ter­na­tively ig­nor­ing the fact that most of what they pro­pose is in fact al­ready be­ing im­ple­mented.

The sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic growth is be­ing driven by do­mes­tic de­mand, re­flect­ing ex­pan­sion in both in­vest­ment and pri­vate con­sump­tion. Strong labour mar­ket devel­op­ments, mod­er­ate wage ap­pre­ci­a­tion and sub­dued inflation also con­trib­uted to eco­nomic growth.

The gov­ern­ment’s deficit at the end of 2015 was be­low the Euro­pean av­er­age and is ex­pected to be main­tained this year as well. The real GDP growth lev­elled off at more than five per cent in the first quar­ter of 2016. As from to­mor­row the nation will have de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions of how it has fared, with ad­di­tional plans to main­tain and ex­pand the pros­per­ity lev­els through the pro­vi­sions of so­cial jus­tice.

Solid rights for peo­ple with dis­abil­ity

This week I had the hon­our to move the sec­ond read­ing in Par­lia­ment of the long-awaited Bill that fully em­braces the UN Con­ven­tion for the Rights of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties and trans­pose it into Mal­tese law. The pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had signed the Con­ven­tion, like many other coun­tries had done, but was not given the legal force to be in­voked in our Law Courts.

The new Bill will not only recog­nise the full con­tent of this con­ven­tion on dis­abil­ity, but will also in­cor­po­rate it into our own laws, es­tab­lish­ing them as the fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. This is a very sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in the Labour Gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to se­cure equal­ity and jus­tice for all per­sons with dis­abil­ity. It is an­other proof that in this sec­tor – the same as in all oth­ers – we walk the talk. It is also a bold leap for­ward in that the new law will even­tu­ally su­per­sede any cur­rent pro­vi­sions in our laws re­lated to this sec­tion of our pop­u­la­tion, mak­ing it supreme for legal rights in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor to be gal­vanised in our legal sys­tem. It is an­other ex­am­ple of our tar­gets to build a strong and fair so­ci­ety.

Well­be­ing in re­tire­ment

In a closer look at my port­fo­lio, tasked with the el­derly and dis­abil­ity sec­tors, I note how our work over the last cou­ple of years has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional val­i­da­tion. In­deed, some months ago the Euro­pean Union Ac­tive Age­ing In­dex saw Malta reg­is­ter­ing an im­proved po­si­tion for ‘in­de­pen­dent, healthy and se­cure liv­ing’. With this en­cour­ag­ing eval­u­a­tion of Malta’s pol­icy work on ac­tive age­ing and well­be­ing in re­tire­ment, last Mon­day I spoke at the sem­i­nar or­gan­ised by the Pres­i­dent’s Foun­da­tion for the Well­be­ing of So­ci­ety.

We know that be­sides the tra­di­tional chal­lenges that come with re­tire­ment, peo­ple now face a dif­fer­ent sce­nario with a va­ri­ety of lifestyles and a never-end­ing change in fam­ily styles and units. It is a true test when deal­ing with such adap­ta­tion chal­lenges, as re­tirees can­not ac­cept that one size fits all. Each in­di­vid­ual has his or her par­tic­u­lar needs and ex­pec­ta­tions, and a dif­fer­ent out­look on life. A lot de­pends on one’s own re­silience and psy­cho-so­cial prepa­ra­tion for this stage in life. Such tran­si­tions can be trau­matic, un­less these peo­ple are well pre­pared to adapt to al­ter­na­tive lifestyles and ac­tiv­i­ties.

Two years ago, the National Pol­icy and Strat­egy for Ac­tive Age­ing had al­ready ad­dressed this sce­nario and spelt out the nec­es­sary line of ac­tion to en­sure ac­tive and healthy lifestyles. As al­ready stated, the pos­i­tive re­sults are there for all to see, and while con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tor­ing the process, we strive to de­velop the in­no­va­tive mea­sures re­quired.

Dis­ad­van­tages of women with dis­abil­i­ties

It was an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for me last week to par­tic­i­pate in a national con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by Malta’s Fed­er­a­tion of Women Or­gan­i­sa­tions: “in­vis­i­ble women” – those who are dis­ad­van­taged due their dis­abil­ity. I was re­as­sured by an EU spe­cial re­port on women’s rights in 2014 which stressed that “strate­gies, poli­cies and leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives, en­sur­ing non-dis­crim­i­na­tion and equal op­por­tu­ni­ties must be drawn up with the ac­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion of all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing women with dis­abil­i­ties.” Look­ing at my Sec­re­tar­iat’s per­for­mance, I found these pro­pos­als as fully de­scrib­ing our own per­for­mance, in line with the strat­egy we have laid down and im­ple­mented at a steady pace.

Ac­cord­ing to the WHO, dis­abil­ity preva­lence is higher among women and they are particularly af­fected by this phe­nom­e­non ow­ing to their longer life ex­pectancy.

This in­creases the bur­den on car­ers, and in par­tic­u­lar on fam­ily car­ers – who are mainly women – who are forced to leave their em­ploy­ment in or­der to care for de­pen­dent fam­ily mem­bers.

In­ter­na­tional re­search shows that women and girls with dis­abil­i­ties are far more likely to be vic­tims of vi­o­lence, and particularly of do­mes­tic and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion; and es­ti­mates show that women with dis­abil­i­ties are al­most 10 times more likely to be abused than non-dis­abled women. They suf­fer greater emo­tional de­pen­dency, greater risk of fall­ing vic­tim to all forms of gen­der-based vi­o­lence, lower lev­els of per­sonal and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. Wide­spread ig­no­rance re­gard­ing sex­u­al­ity and in­nu­mer­able and dam­ag­ing myths sur­round­ing this is­sue dis­cour­age these women from get­ting mar­ried, hint­ing they are un­able to raise a fam­ily!

Lo­cally we have in­vested heav­ily in their in­te­gra­tion, lead­ing to liv­ing in­de­pen­dent lives and de­vel­op­ing their skills within the com­mu­nity. There is a strong re­la­tion­ship be­tween mo­bil­ity, dis­abil­ity and so­cial in­clu­sion, es­pe­cially with re­gard to free ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ca­tion (sign lan­guage and other al­ter­na­tive forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion), free­dom of move­ment in all fields of life and ac­cess to ser­vices. We have worked hard on this and de­spite the pos­i­tive re­sults, we are com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing our ef­forts.

Fur­ther events and com­mit­ments

It was a plea­sure meet­ing an Ital­ian del­e­ga­tion that is ac­tively con­sid­er­ing Malta as a test base for in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies in the ac­tive age­ing sec­tor. This is a sec­tor of national pri­or­ity which is worth in­vest­ing in through pub­lic and pri­vate part­ner­ships. Such cross-bor­der col­lab­o­ra­tion is most wel­come and I hope lo­cal stake­hold­ers will join forces with such in­no­va­tive Ital­ian en­ti­ties and work to­gether to ad­dress the needs of this de­mo­graphic chal­lenge.

This week I an­nounced a rad­i­cal re­form to up­grade the “Meals on Wheels” pro­vi­sion, en­sur­ing that the pub­lic ten­der is­sued in­cluded higher stan­dards of food qual­ity, health re­lated menus, pack­ag­ing and stor­age meth­ods and equip­ment and de­liv­ery to clients. In this way we have also ad­dressed the wait­ing list and plan to de­liver the 500-strong list by the end of Novem­ber.

This week we also signed a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing with the Malta Coun­cil for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy for the Ex­plora project. Our clients from the ac­tive age­ing and dis­abil­ity sec­tor will now have free ac­cess to in­ter­ac­tive pro­grammes in the fields of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. Par­tic­i­pants will be em­pow­ered to ex­plore their in­di­vid­ual skills and en­joy due ac­ces­si­bil­ity to the ad­vanced world of sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies. It com­ple­ments the on-go­ing pro­grammes at our life­long learn­ing hubs in var­i­ous lo­cal­i­ties.

Last but not least, on Thurs­day we marked World Sight Day to high­light prob­lems re­lated to vis­ual im­pair­ment and launched an in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive to­gether with Her­itage Malta.

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