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.
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.
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 activeageing.gov.mt, or by calling my Parliamentary Secretariat on 2590 3175. The winners will be announced at an event on 3rd December.
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.