The new faces of poverty
Poverty is indisputably visible and tangible. No matter how much good the government claims to have done, its biggest success is the reintroduction of many social and political problems, among which poverty ranks high.
The Times published a story on poverty. A woman gave her personal account in an international conference on poverty and portrayed her story about how a bad move in her business nade her bankrupt. She ended up literally having nothing.
But the government doesn’t want to listen and keeps denying poverty. Had the government heeded, it would have listened to YMCA, to Caritas, to EU statistics and to the many charities, to the many organisations that incessantly beg for money and funds to offer their service.
Yes, poverty is back and, as the cycle goes, it will be the Labour Party that will have to work to eradicate it again. And the wheel turns on, the Nationalist Party impoverishes and continues to spend money irresponsibly and the PL rebuilds afresh the so-much-needed institutions. A cycle that, in my opinion, can only be broken if the political system of our country is changed.
Malta is imbued with beggars all year round. Not any more like in the pre-1971 years when beggars used to gather around Valletta gate in shabby and dirty clothing (it used to be full of nuns there begging to feed the little ones too). Yet, not much different either.
Today’s beggars have an identity card declaring which institution they are begging for, institutions without which many will probably be dying of hunger. The biggest beggar is in fact L-Istrina, which, in the name of the state and blessed by the highest authority of the country, collects grand sums of money to help the local poor. Which poor?
Never before has so much money been collected from the public with last year’s collection peaking at €2.5 million. All this to patch up the government’s failures.
The government has reduced this country to begging again, either because of its incompetence or because of its politicians’ craving for money and power.
Why would Puttinu Cares beg for money to build flats in London to host Maltese families whose relative is in hospital? Why would locals have to organise cycling marathons around the world to collect money for dialysis machines to equip Mater Dei Hospital?
Had the Prime Minister put things into perspective, he would have invested there and not in the Parliament building, the bridge to nowhere, the lovely oligarchic house in Brussels, the façade of Malta Enterprise and other offices.
Poverty is not only in the southern part of the island. Just recently I met a woman from the north who told me her story of poverty.
She had taken care of her ill and aging parents for many, many years. When both her parents passed away, a few months back, she inherited the ground floor maisonette that had homed her and her parents, plus a small sum of money. She used the money to pay for the funeral of her father, the last one to die, and she had to fork out all her savings to pay the succession tax. This rendered her penniless.
Obviously, from the government’s perspective, this woman is not poor. She has her own house. In reality, though, had it not been for the neighbours’ generosity, she would not even have enough to eat.
Poverty is visible from the amount of gold that is being sold. Many adverts are constantly inviting the drooling public to sell the little gold they have.
Whoever is doing well in life won’t sell his/her gold. We Maltese have a reputation to keep some gold to pass on to our children, gold being considered a reserve for rainy days. And a rainy day it is.
Many are selling their gold because they cannot do otherwise, because they need to top up their salary, to do some needed works at home, or to buy a new washing machine without which they cannot manage.
We would probably be shocked to know how much gold is being sold.
The best part in this situation is that the government is doing nothing to safeguard some good old locally produced artistic jewellery either. Monte di Pietà, the office which is supposed to lend money on gold so that people would pawn rather than sell, pays the miserable price of €1.75 per gram whereas private buyers pay about €23.
So poor has this country become that we also receive rice and other cereals from the EU to distribute among the local poor. It has been recently reported that Malta will be benefiting from €131,300 of such cereals and will be distributing about 1,230 tons of cereals.
Can anyone responsible please inform us where all these cereals are going? And who is eating them?
Eurostat has also shown us that 15.5 per cent of the population is experiencing poverty (Eurostat 2010). However, poverty has also been visible in the local survey on income and living conditions for 2005, 2006, and 2007 (National Statistics Office 2009). Among the poorest are the single parents and those over 65 years of age.
Other interesting local phenomena are resurfacing too. Such phenomena had been completely eradicated from the island. For example, more couples are getting married and choosing to live with their parents/in-laws simply because buying a home is impossible. Many others are choosing to rent rather than buy, which they cannot afford to do because of low wages, increasing struggles to cope with the standard of living and precarious work, which doesn’t permit them to get loans from banks.
The list of factors proving that poverty is on the increase is endless. It’s enough for the time being just to mention the presence of Mother Teresa’s nuns on the island, nuns who choose to work among the poorest of the poor. This is so shameful for us Maltese, especially when I look back and remember that a Labour government had found the same scenario in 1971 and eradicated poverty completely, restoring dignity to the people.
And, again, it will have to be a new Labour government that will eradicate poverty and lift the country out of the misery it is in.
Dr Azzopardi is the founding chairman of the Institute of Family Therapy Malta.