Malta is placing substantial attention to building an inclusive society with zero poverty and outstanding care, which is visible through the fact that a third of the national budget is invested in the social sector. Dr Michael Falzon, Minister for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity, discusses social aspects, national policies and projects implemented in the social sphere.
European Times: What are the main objectives of the Ministry for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity?
Dr Michael Falzon: Our ministry is responsible for Malta’s social policies, family policies, child policies, social security, pensions, solidarity services, social housing, inclusiveness of persons with disability, the elderly, and community care. Generally speaking, we are responsible for the entire social aspect of the Maltese community, which is why a third of the Government’s expenditure, or €1.6 billion, had been invested in the social sector.
The main policies under which our Ministry operates are the National Parenting Policy, the National Children’s Policy, the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion, the National Strategic Policy for Positive Parenting, the National Strategy Policy on Dementia, the National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing, the National Policy on the Rights of Persons with Disability, and Pensions Reforms.
As an EU member, Malta has access to EU funds, which we have successfully used for projects aimed at improving numerous social issues, as acknowledged by the EU country report for Malta, which recognizes the country’s progress in three key areas: the reduction of poverty, a good work/life balance, and a good work/pay balance.
European Times: Reduction of poverty is one of the key priorities of your Ministry. What has been done in this regard?
Dr Michael Falzon: In the past several years, Malta has witnessed a substantial reduction of poverty and social exclusion, an impressive accomplishment which would not have been possible without the country’s strong economic growth. Under the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion 2014-2024, we have implemented numerous projects and many more are underway.
Statistics shows a drop from 24% to 20% in the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion between 2013 and 2016. The data also shows a decrease in the number of people who suffer from severe material deprivation from 39.000 to 19.000, which represents 4.4% of the local population, well below the EU average of 7.5%.
A major strength emanating from the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social Inclusion, is Government’s commitment to set up a national structure to benchmark, monitor and evaluate progress towards poverty reduction and social inclusion. This commitment was achieved through the setting up of an Inter-Ministerial Committee with our colleagues from the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Ministry for Health and the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government, these being the key Ministries covering the six dimensions underpinning the vision and strategic direction of the national strategic policy. Through its regular meetings, monitoring and reporting, the IMC closely followed the introduction and progress of various measures and initiatives.
As a result of our proactive policies, Malta is witnessing the lowest unemployment rate recorded in the history of the country. To implement the measures for poverty reduction, we also work in close cooperation with the Ministry for Education and Employment to enhance the skills of the workforce. Furthermore, in order to sustain the country’s continuous economic growth, we have created tools to encourage women to participate in the economy by providing free child care, which also helped in solving shortage issues of the workforce. We are also highly committed to helping people with disabilities to actively participate in the economy.
European Times: Which are the main social policies the Ministry is implementing when it comes to the elderly and people with disabilities?
Dr Michael Falzon: For the accomplishment of our goals in the field of elderly care and care for people with disabilities, we work in close cooperation with the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries.
Concerning persons with Disabilities, Malta has a National Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, which is committed to rendering Maltese society an inclusive one, in a way that persons with disability reach their full potential in all aspects of life, enjoying a high quality of life thanks to equal opportunities. Furthermore, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing is committed to the promotion of equality for older people and disabled persons, to safeguard their right to active inclusion and participation and to live independently in their communities.
Through the Malta National Disability Strategy, based on the National Policy on the Rights of Persons with Disability, the Government is focused on improving disability benefits, and greater impetus is given to the employment of persons through incentives. The goal of this Strategy is to have better opportunities for people with disabilities in the labour market, improving the educational experience, provide social services in the right formats and focus on emancipating the individual. Furthermore, we also provide housing where persons with disabilities can live in homes with four to eight people.
As other EU countries, Malta is also facing the challenge of an aging population. Our Ministry has taken several measures to improve the situation, such as the reforms devised to strengthen the sustainability and adequacy of the pensions system, which encompasses some 93.000 individuals. With one in five Maltese being 65 years and older, or 19.4% of the population, long- term protection and care of the elderly remains our priority and we are dedicated to promoting an active, successful and productive ageing. There are several policies and projects regarding elderly care, including the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities of Older People in Care Homes, Minimum Standards for Care Homes for Older People, the National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing, the National Strategy Policy on Dementia, etc. Malta offers various social and healthcare services that target the needs and interests of older people. Financial support and allowances have been enhanced for older persons wanting to employ a carer to assist them in their daily needs and for carers of older relatives at home. Furthermore, other services include home care services, meals-on-wheels, home help, handyman assistance, telecare and day care centres. In addition, seniors can be accommodated in state-run or private-run homes for older people, as well as beds leased by Government in churches or private care homes.
European Times: You mentioned that social housing falls under the Ministry’s responsibilities. What has been done in this regard?
Dr Michael Falzon: Malta’s strong economic growth also brings the challenge of increased demands and more expensive housing. We have taken several measures to address this issue, including a capital project in the amount of €58 million for the construction of nearly 700 affordable housing units. As part of the Government’s plan to improve the country’s infrastructure to better reflect its economic growth, the social housing project is financed by loans from the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank and encompasses nearly 700 homes which will include one, two and three bedroom apartments in 16 sites around Malta which have already been identified for the project.
European Times: What is your personal message?
Dr Michael Falzon: Our Ministry remains very committed to making sure that a portion of the increased wealth of the nation goes to the part of the population that is in need of care. Of course, we are very careful to make sure that everything we implement is well-structured and sustainable and contributes to the social wellbeing of our citizens and towards a progressive and inclusive society.