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
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