So­cial in­clu­sion high on Malta’s EU agenda

There is no bet­ter sat­is­fac­tion for pol­icy-mak­ers than see­ing their poli­cies and strategies they plan yield the de­sired re­sults.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Justyne Caru­ana Dr Caru­ana is Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for the Rights of Peo­ple with Dis­abil­ity and Ac­tive Age­ing

Time and again dur­ing the past months we have wit­nessed re­peated in­ter­na­tional certification that the eco­nomic and so­cial mea­sures taken by the Labour government are achiev­ing their goals.

Although the most re­al­is­tic mea­sure­ment of government poli­cies is pri­mar­ily ev­i­denced in the peo­ple’s own di­rect eval­u­a­tion – in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, in­ter­na­tional statis­tics and com­par­a­tive stud­ies add con­sid­er­able weight to im­me­di­ate re­sults. The world com­mu­nity and the Euro­pean Union – both of which we are part of – have their own weight­ing on how in­ter­na­tional trends af­fect in­di­vid­ual coun­tries and, sim­i­larly, how in­di­vid­ual na­tions’ performance com­pare to re­gional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els.

Big­gest in­crease of work­ing life

Euro­stat fig­ures pub­lished past week are of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to the Mal­tese government and to me per­son­ally as the per­son re­spon­si­ble for the el­derly and specif­i­cally for ac­tive age­ing. By Euro­pean stan­dards, Malta saw the big­gest in­crease of work­ing life within the EU be­tween 2005 and 2015. This shows pro­gres­sive de­vel­op­ment through­out a decade, but proves to fur­ther ex­tent that mea­sures taken dur­ing the last three years have cre­ated ad­di­tional work op­por­tu­ni­ties for per­sons who would have oth­er­wise re­tired.

The ex­pected du­ra­tion of work­ing life in­creased in all EU mem­ber states, al­beit to dif­fer­ent ex­tents. It rose most in Malta (+5.1 years), fol­lowed by Hun­gary (+4.2 years) and Lux­em­bourg (+3.1 years), while it re­mained nearly the same in Den­mark (+0.2 year) and Ire­land (+0.4 year).

The over­all in­crease in du­ra­tion of work­ing life was gen­er­ally driven across mem­ber states by the change in women’s du­ra­tion of work­ing life. This in­creased be­tween 2005 and 2015 in all EU states, no­tably in Malta (+8.6 years), in sharp con­trast to Ger­many and Aus­tria (+3.4 years each). Ad­di­tional data shows that du­ra­tion of work­ing life for men has dropped in five mem­ber states but cer­tainly not in Malta.

Timely re­sults

Such pos­i­tive fig­ures did not come about by chance. The national pol­icy and strat­egy for ac­tive age­ing planned and im­ple­mented by the Labour government over the past years is un­doubt­edly bear­ing fruit. Euro­stat’s statis­tics prove that for older peo­ple in the labour mar­ket, Malta and Gozo has reached very high plac­ings. Th­ese re­sults come at a very im­por­tant time as we are set­ting our agenda for next year’s pres­i­dency of the EU Coun­cil. Among its pri­or­i­ties for 2017, the government aims to foster a pro­gres­sive ap­proach on so­cial in­clu­sion and ad­dress the is­sues that are of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to cit­i­zens such as gen­der equal­ity in the labour mar­ket.

As Cabi­net mem­bers we have been dis­cussing the agenda and all re­lated is­sues di­rectly with our coun­ter­parts in Bratislava and Am­s­ter­dam, apart from hold­ing fruit­ful and defin­ing meet­ings with high EU of­fi­cials in Brus­sels. My two-day visit to the EU cap­i­tal early last week was packed with meet­ings dur­ing which I met, among oth­ers, MEP Adam Kósa, Rap­por­teur on the Ac­ces­si­bil­ity Act and Chair­man of the EP Dis­abil­ity In­ter­group, and MEP Ed­uard Kukan, with whom I dis­cussed at length the Malta Pres­i­dency pri­or­i­ties and Ac­tive Age­ing progress in Malta. Need­less to say, such meet­ings al­ways con­firm the in­ter­est shown by our EU coun­ter­parts in our lo­cal ini­tia­tives and re­sults achieved in both the el­derly and dis­abil­ity sec­tors.

The long sched­ule of prepara­tory meet­ings over the past months cul­mi­nated in the Cabi­net’s di­rect en­counter with the EU Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent and his col­lege of Com­mis­sion­ers. It is in­deed en­cour­ag­ing to hear Pres­i­dent JeanClaude Juncker heap­ing praise on the Mal­tese government for its prepa­ra­tions to as­sume the EU pres­i­dency on Jan­uary 1. Af­ter the joint meet­ing Mr Juncker said: “Malta is pre­pared in the best way pos­si­ble to take over the pres­i­dency. Malta is a se­ri­ous coun­try, down to earth, a small coun­try with great am­bi­tions.”

An­nual award for dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties

My lo­cal sched­ule for the week in­cluded the launch­ing of the third an­nual edi­tion of the “Soċ­jetà Ġusta“(Fair So­ci­ety) award. Through such an­nual events we aim to in­crease the coun­try’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of ac­tivism in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor and en­dorse the con­tri­bu­tion given by the many who work within this sec­tor. Three cat­e­gories will again high­light life achieve­ments by peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, the pro­mo­tion of their rights as well as praise­wor­thy ac­tivism in the lo­cal dis­abil­ity sec­tor.

It is with a clear pur­pose of fur­ther ex­po­sure that this year I have en­sured that two jour­nal­ists form part of the five per­sons com­pos­ing the se­lec­tion board led by Oliver Sci­cluna, Com­mis­sioner for the dis­abil­ity sec­tor. The idea is to bring the me­dia closer to the dis­abil­ity sce­nario so that fur­ther aware­ness is raised in favour of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties in this im­por­tant co­hort of so­ci­ety.

Nom­i­na­tions will be re­ceived by Fri­day 25th Novem­ber. Ap­pli­ca­tion forms can be ob­tained through ac­tiveage­, or by call­ing my Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tar­iat on 2590 3175. The win­ners will be an­nounced at an event on 3rd De­cem­ber.

Fon­daz­zjoni Nazareth

The whole coun­try had long felt the need of sup­port­ing the in­valu­able ser­vices given by Fon­daz­zjoni Nazareth to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. This week an agree­ment was signed through which the government will al­lo­cate €1.4 mil­lion over a three-year pe­riod in sup­port of the Foun­da­tion’s pro­grammes for 28 peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity. This was the re­sult of long months of dis­cus­sions be­tween our ex­perts, the Foun­da­tion’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and our per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, and their re­spec­tive teams.

While prais­ing the ad­mirable courage shown by Dun Ang Sey­chell decades ago, I have also de­fined the fact that sup­port pro­grammes are planned for peo­ple with dif­fer­ent dis­abil­i­ties, and that this was the first such agree­ment that will also en­sure ad­her­ence to the newly estab­lished stan­dards for res­i­den­tial homes.

On­go­ing lo­cal events

At the in­vi­ta­tion of the Gen­eral Work­ers’ Union, I met the mem­bers of the vet­er­ans sec­tion this week. It was a very fruit­ful meet­ing dur­ing which de­tails were fur­ther ex­plained about the 2017 bud­get mea­sures for the el­derly. The dis­cus­sion that en­sued proved once more to be in­dica­tive of the need that se­nior cit­i­zens them­selves should be more aware of the many ser­vices pro­vided by my Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tar­iat. It was in­deed a plea­sure to lis­ten to in­di­vid­ual knowl­edge about work and re­tire­ment is­sues from peo­ple with long years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the area.

Autism was the fo­cus of a meet­ing hosted by MEP Miriam Dalli on Fri­day. It was another op­por­tu­nity for me to re­it­er­ate the government’s com­mit­ment in this par­tic­u­lar area of dis­abil­ity. While high­light­ing the rel­a­tive land­mark leg­is­la­tion I pi­loted over the past months in Par­lia­ment – the Per­sons within the Autism Spec­trum Em­pow­er­ment Act, I ex­plained in de­tail the State Sup­port Plan en­vis­aged in this new law. It has been compiled by all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing per­sons with autism and their fam­i­lies who, to­gether with other en­ti­ties in­volved in autism, will form a national coun­cil. We are ac­tively com­mit­ted to em­power per­sons within the autism spec­trum by in­tro­duc­ing for the first time the con­cept of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and pro­vid­ing for their health and well-be­ing in so­ci­ety, through their par­tic­i­pa­tion and in­clu­sion in so­ci­ety.

The launch­ing of EVVIVA, another um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion for those op­er­at­ing in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor was one of the lat­est events I at­tended this week. Such ini­tia­tives of gath­er­ing to­gether NGOs al­ways pro­duce a uni­fied ef­fort in the dis­abil­ity sec­tor. It is in fact our com­mit­ment all along to bring all stake­hold­ers around the con­sul­ta­tion ta­ble when pre­par­ing var­i­ous laws and stan­dards, as well as when draft­ing and im­ple­ment­ing prac­ti­cal mea­sures for and to­gether with per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

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