Prosperity with social justice
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.