A fair so­ci­ety is made of this

The fair dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth gen­er­ated by Malta’s eco­nomic boom was the cen­tral mes­sage of Labour’s fourth bud­get. Af­ter sta­bil­is­ing the coun­try’s fi­nances, the gov­ern­ment is now in a po­si­tion to share the coun­try’s pros­per­ity fol­low­ing un­prece­dented e

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Justyne Caru­ana

So­cial jus­tice in real terms

The un­der­ly­ing thread shows that the gov­ern­ment has come up with a long list of so­cial mea­sures to di­rectly ad­dress in­equal­i­ties. The sub­stan­tial bud­get pro­pos­als to this end would not have been pos­si­ble with­out a sound econ­omy and the fig­ures show that the coun­try’s fi­nances are in good shape – prob­a­bly the best they have been for many decades.

The gov­ern­ment is well-aware of the causes of poverty: a lack of work, low-in­come jobs – es­pe­cially for un­skilled work­ers, old age – es­pe­cially for pen­sion­ers de­pend­ing on one pen­sion, health is­sues and other prob­lems that lead to fam­i­lies be­ing de­pen­dant on state aid. The bud­get mea­sures are meant to em­power these peo­ple to take up the sup­port­ive op­por­tu­ni­ties given and move ahead. In both sec­tors for which I am re­spon­si­ble, we want the gov­ern­ment to be­come ‘smaller’ in terms of im­por­tance and to as­sume less con­trol over the lives of peo­ple so that we pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple with any level of abil­ity to take con­trol of their life in the di­rec­tion they choose.

The re­al­ity about dis­abil­ity

As for me, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for a con­sid­er­able por­tion of our pop­u­la­tion that may fall within the vul­ner­a­bil­ity sec­tors, these mea­sures ob­vi­ously come across as a very pos­i­tive leap for­ward. The sub­stan­tial ad­di­tional funds al­lot­ted to my Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tar­iat of­fer fur­ther chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the coming year. The new projects an­nounced will cer­tainly en­hance our col­lec­tive ef­forts to meet the needs and rights of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and the elderly within the vast ac­tive age­ing pro­grammes.

In this day and age it sounds al­most anachro­nis­tic to re­fer to any sec­tion of peo­ple as be­ing ‘so­cially vul­ner­a­ble’, but we do in­deed have these peo­ple around us. For long decades it was a mat­ter of placidly ac­cept­ing the sta­tus quo, but Labour was never part of such an at­ti­tude. Con­sec­u­tive Labour gov­ern­ments proved to be cat­a­lysts in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor. As well as pi­o­neer­ing the very first forms of as­sis­tance, they worked hard to cre­ate na­tion­wide aware­ness of the re­al­ity of these peo­ple. In var­i­ous modes, and with what ap­peared to be a level of com­mit­ment, other ad­min­is­tra­tions had to fol­low suit. Here again, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties them­selves know best whether this was done out of con­vic­tion or con­ve­nience.

His­tory is made of facts

His­tory can­not be re-writ­ten, and facts and deeds stand out loud and clear. The present Labour gov­ern­ment is tan­gi­bly de­liv­er­ing and ac­tu­ally seek­ing in­no­va­tive ini­tia­tives to im­ple­ment and en­force its elec­toral com­mit­ments. Be­ing re­spon­si­ble for these sec­tors for al­most the past three years, I find so­lace in the mea­sures and ben­e­fits an­nounced for 2017. A con­sid­er­able num­ber of the pro­pos­als we put for­ward have been en­dorsed and, in fact, in­cluded in the bud­get speech. Come Jan­uary, thou­sands of Mal­tese and Goz­i­tans who fall in these sec­tors will see that our pro­pos­als are in­deed facts that will help them lead a bet­ter qual­ity life.

There are prom­ises and there are slo­gans. For a while they may both be at­trac­tive and sound pleas­ant to hear or see. But facts are what es­sen­tially reach out to peo­ple’s lives. Bud­get mea­sures are not merely pro­pos­als, they are a com­mit­ment – with fi­nan­cial back­ing and cost­ings al­ready planned and ap­proved. Look­ing at it from my point of view, they strengthen the bond be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tor and the peo­ple we serve. A fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit is meant to be a sup­port, but not an end in it­self. It is an es­sen­tial tool that paves the way for many who need an ex­tra push to live a life of dig­nity. En­cour­age­ment and em­pow­er­ment are magic words that em­anate from the gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als to the na­tion for the coming year.

As a mat­ter of fact, I cher­ish the var­i­ous ini­tia­tives that di­rectly strengthen our com­mit­ment to­wards em­pow­er­ing these peo­ple in the dis­abil­ity and elderly sec­tors to at­tain an in­de­pen­dent way of liv­ing within an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

Pol­icy-mak­ers and ser­vice-providers

It is al­ways an im­por­tant event when pol­icy-mak­ers, ser­vice-providers and ac­tivists in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor come to­gether and en­gage in a de­bate aimed at find­ing so­lu­tions. I had the hon­our of ad­dress­ing such a meet­ing on Wed­nes­day when I at­tended the 20th An­niver­sary Con­fer­ence of the Euro­pean As­so­ci­a­tion of Ser­vice Providers for Peo­ple with Dis­abil­ity (EASPD). Del­e­gates from all over Europe dis­cussed ‘De­vel­op­ing to­gether the sup­port ser­vices of to­mor­row’.

EASPD is in­deed a suc­cess story be­cause it is es­sen­tially a guide to help us un­der­stand our ser­vices’ pro­vi­sion, what we are about and how we can max­imise and make the best use of the ser­vices we of­fer. In our own ways, we all strive to take stock of the re­sources avail­able to meet the in­creas­ing de­mand.

Ser­vices hap­pen to be the lan­guage by which the na­tion speaks to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. It is in this sense that we need ser­vices that clearly en­gage the per­son, de­signed around the as­pi­ra­tions of the in­di­vid­ual.

For the Labour gov­ern­ment, ac­ces­si­bil­ity, in­clu­siv­ity, equal­ity and equity are not just beau­ti­ful con­cepts. They are the ba­sic in­gre­di­ents of and en­gines in ev­ery­thing that we de­cide upon and im­ple­ment. This is bet­ter achieved when work­ing not only for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, but along­side them, as we in­sist that they are di­rectly in­volved from the ini­tial plan­ning stage un­til the fi­nal im­ple­men­ta­tion.

A fair so­ci­ety is pri­mar­ily made of this!

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

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