Bud­get just the first step in ad­dress­ing is­sues faced by those in poverty – Car­i­tas Di­rec­tor

Malta Independent - - BUDGET 2017 -

This year’s bud­get is just the first step in ad­dress­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to those at risk or al­ready in poverty, Car­i­tas Malta Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Leonid McKay has said.

Mr McKay was be­ing in­ter­viewed by The Malta In­de­pen­dent’s Con­tent Di­rec­tor Pierre Portelli, in a newly launched pro­gramme called INDEPTH which is avail­able on www.in­de­pen­dent.com.mt.

The pro­gramme dealt with the bud­get and those on ben­e­fits, at risk of poverty and in poverty.

Mr McKay ex­plains that if the state does not con­tinue to build on this year’s bud­get, then the voices of those in poverty would be ex­tin­guished.

Quot­ing the Na­tional Sta­tis­tics Of­fice, in 2014 there were 66,000 peo­ple liv­ing in poverty. Pressed on whether he be­lieves pre­vi­ous bud­gets ig­nored this sec­tor of so­ci­ety, Mr McKay replied, “I’m not say­ing they were ig­nored, I’m say­ing that this bud­get fo­cuses di­rectly on them”.

He agrees how­ever, that this sec­tion of so­ci­ety has been ig­nored for long enough.

Mr McKay was pleased to note a shift in rhetoric when it came to dis­cussing low in­come per­sons and those on so­cial ben­e­fits. “Over the past years I heard min­is­ters speak­ing about per­sons on so­cial ben­e­fits as be­ing lazy, as if they choose to be on so­cial ben­e­fits”.

He said that the ma­jor­ity of per­sons on non-con­tributable so­cial ben­e­fits do not have a choice. There are a num­ber of rea­sons they would be on such ben­e­fits in­clud­ing ill­ness, so­cial prob­lems and work-re­lated ac­ci­dents.

Turn­ing di­rectly to the 2016 Car­i­tas re­port, that had sparked much de­bate about per­sons in poverty, he said that the aim of the study was to iden­tify a line, in terms of in­come, where per­sons can­not live de­cently with any wage be­low it.

Mr Portelli asked: “Car­i­tas deals with these peo­ple di­rectly. Can you paint us a pic­ture of who are these peo­ple who are so des­per­ate that they need our help?”

“Car­i­tas has di­rect con­tact with these peo­ple, and they knock on our door ev­ery day. We just launched a ser­vice to­gether with the Min­istry for Fam­ily and So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity and the Al­fred Mizzi Foun­da­tion, where we opened a shel­ter for per­sons with par­tic­u­lar prob­lems.

“The poverty sit­u­a­tion is not the same as it is on else­where in Europe, where there are peo­ple beg­ging in the street. Peo­ple in Malta face prob­lems, in­clud­ing those re­lated to hous­ing is­sues and come for tem­po­rary shel­ter as they don’t have a roof to sleep un­der. There are also sit­u­a­tions where they can­not pay rent”.

Given that Malta has a very high level of em­ploy­ment, he was asked how those on ben­e­fits can­not find work.

“The re­al­ity is that there are peo­ple who have sub­stance ad­dic­tions, for­eign­ers among us who had high ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of type of em­ploy­ment and ended up un­em­ployed. There are those who gen­uinely can­not find work for di­verse rea­sons. And here is where the state needs to in­ter­vene”.

He said that the ma­jor­ity of is­sues he has seen are not be­cause of the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, but are in­stead re­lated to per­sonal and fam­ily is­sues.

Mr Mckay did high­light cer­tain dis­ap­point­ments with the bud­get. One such prob­lem re­lates to food prices, another with the ex­plo­sion in rent rates. “We need to be care­ful so that the help be­ing given is enough for those to cope with the mar­ket”.

Mr Portelli pressed the in­ter­vie­wee, on whether the fi­nan­cial in­creases in the bud­get could re­sult in per­sons no longer, sta­tis­ti­cally, be classed as be­ing at risk of poverty, al­though in re­al­ity would still be.

“If the aid be­ing given by the state is much less than what these peo­ple need in or­der to cope with mar­ket prices, then they will re­main in the sta­tis­tics,” said Mr McKay, who also stressed that pol­i­cy­mak­ers must un­der­stand the need for these peo­ple to be given what they de­serve.

He was asked whether the in­crease in toi­letries and per­sonal care would elim­i­nate the good done through the bud­get, and whether he be­lieves an en­ergy tar­iff cut was needed.

In re­sponse, Mr McKay said: “It’s a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion. As Car­i­tas we be­lieve that if one has to bur­den per­sons on so­cial ben­e­fits and those on the min­i­mum wage, they should not do so on es­sen­tial items such as toi­letries”. The idea that one bal­ances out the other could be a true,” said Mr McKay.

Turn­ing to rents, he does not be­lieve that enough was done in the bud­get to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem. He men­tioned that many of those who come to Car­i­tas face prob­lems re­gard­ing rent costs. He again stressed that this bud­get must be seen as just be­ing the first step. “The state must look at this prob­lem in fur­ther de­tail”.

He men­tioned a pilot pro­ject in­volv­ing 100 fam­i­lies will see the draw­ing up of a seven-year con­tract for low-in­come fam­i­lies rent­ing prop­erty from pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, ex­press­ing his in­ter­est as the re­sults from this pro­ject.

Turn­ing to a bud­getary mea­sure on trans­port, where those turn­ing 18 would be able to utilise pub­lic trans­port for free, Mr McKay agreed that ex­tend­ing this to those in poverty should be con­sid­ered in fu­ture bud­gets.

He was also asked about the liv­ing wage, ex­plain­ing that he is in favour of it, but also be­lieves the min­i­mum wage needs to be dis­cussed.

Mr McKay also avoided say­ing whether this year’s bud­get has failed the Car­i­tas poverty test.

Na­tion­al­ist MPs Paula Mif­sud Bon­nici, Robert Cu­ta­jar, Stephen Spi­teri pre­vi­ously in­di­cated that the Car­i­tas poverty re­port found Mal­tese fam­i­lies with two chil­dren and one par­ent, on the min­i­mum wage, re­quire €11,446 to get by, an €800 in­crease when com­pared to 3.5 years ago. They ar­gued that the bud­get will not make up this dif­fer­ence. They also called it a “cos­metic bud­get”

Asked whether he agrees with the PN, that the bud­get failed the Car­i­tas test, Mr McKay would not say.

“I will not en­ter into po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy,” he said, while adding that through the bud­get the voice of those who are at risk of poverty is be­ing heard. “But it is only the first step. This, for me, is the cri­te­ria for this bud­get and I can­not say whether it has failed or passed the Car­i­tas test.”

Leonid McKay

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