Day 25 Bus 1: Malta, La Valetta

18 May 2018

The sun shone over a half a million of Malta’s people today, our last day in the country before the EMIN bus moves on to Greece.

Caritas hosted a fascinating roundtable reflection with civil society representatives, social workers and people from ministries, many of whom have worked on various minimum income schemes in Malta. They were interested to hear our stories from the journey so far, from Slovenia to Croatia to Italy and how they compared to Malta.

But mostly, we were there to listen to their story. The debate got started on the broader question of social policy and practice in Malta: ‘Do you agree that we have the best healthcare and education systems in Malta?’

The question provoked a lively discussion. It is important to acknowledge strengths as well as weaknesses, they said. Although Malta is not the worst off in Europe from a social perspective, it is the second worst in terms of the At Risk of Poverty or Social Exclusion rate which is at 20.1%. The economy is doing well but that increase in wealth does not necessarily reach more vulnerable populations.

The number of people accessing shelters is on the rise. One representative spoke of a list of 3,000 people on a housing applicants list she had been studying. When she looked more closely, she found that 1,300 of that group were single mothers. Only 185 of those were employed. 70% were under 35 and 97% under 49 years of age. In other words, they were almost at an age where they can work and contribute to a pension. She described their situation as ‘desperate’. There is so much female potential being wasted.

Caritas spoke of work they have done to develop reference budgets. They came up with a 7-day menu of healthy, seasonal, affordable food and costed it. They added a whole host of other costs in detail and estimated the minimum amount that would be needed to survive.

A ministry representative said that a new indicator is being developed which moves away from material to social deprivation that includes the ability to participate more, to go out once in a while, as key parts of well-being.

Another participant said that people need more than just minimum income schemes and other benefits, they need concrete programmes. She also spoke of problems for people with mental health problems, who only receive benefits when they are in hospital but lose them if they go home. This should be the other way around, she said, we should be incentivised to bring people home.

The meeting closed on a more broader, more political note where participants talked about the importance of getting out there and doing more citizen education, more awareness-raising to help people understand that not everyone is doing so well, to get youth more involved in the social side of things beyond the economy, to reinvest in life skills, in critical awareness skills and the ability to challenge the status quo.

One echoed the words of Dario in Zagreb, saying that politicians should have to live on minimum benefits to understand that cruel reality. It was such a good experience to come to Malta and to understand the reality of how people are living. As always, we left feeling we had a lot more to learn, and yet were so grateful to the EAPN in Malta for all the wisdom they shared!