Children who only eat pasta and bread
Many families need help to cope with cost of living, says Caritas worker
Charles Miceli has hands-on experience of children who only eat pasta and bread at home because their parents cannot afford otherwise.
He regularly meets parents who skip paying the electricity bill to buy food for their children. They are people who queue for EU food handouts outside parish offices.
So when the numbers mill at the National Statistics Office churns out the news that almost 64,000 people are at risk of poverty, Mr Miceli is not impressed.
“Poverty is something I feel every day,” said the Caritas worker and founder of a Facebook awareness campaign called Alliance Against Poverty.
percentage of people at risk of poverty, according to the NSO
He insisted the poor tried to hide their condition and it was common for parents to send their children to school in a good state at the cost of sacrificing everything else.
“Some will even give their children fruit to take to school even though all they can afford to eat at home is a plain plate of pasta every day,” he said.
The NSO recorded a marginal increase in the number of people at risk of poverty last year when compared with the previous one. There were 15.4 per cent of people at risk of poverty, including almost 17,000 children.
The figures also showed 18 per cent of families could not afford to keep their homes adequately warm in winter and almost 10 per cent could not afford a meal containing meat, chicken and fish every second day. Mr Miceli said the figures are alarming. “While it is OK to speak of children’s rights when we have children going to school hungry,” he insists.
The causes of poverty are many but Mr Miceli cautioned against tarring everyone with the same brush of disdain and prejudice.
“It is very easy to blame the victims of poverty and accuse them of not knowing how to manage their family budget. While budgeting well is important, a €10 note will remain a €10 note, no matter which way you look at it,” he says.
There are many families who cannot cope with the higher cost of living and they have to be helped, Mr Miceli said.
His reflection is supported by a survey commissioned by The Sunday Times last month that found the cost of living and high utility bills among the top three concerns for respondents.
“The solution we give them is the EU food aid in the form of pasta and biscuits but they cannot simply live on handouts like these,” he says.
Economist Karm Farrugia, who formed part of a team of researchers appointed by Caritas to study poverty, is not shocked by the NSO findings.
“They are in harmony with the market research we did for Caritas that underpinned our proposal to increase the minimum wage,” he says.
The Caritas study published in March – A Minimum Budget for a Decent Living – concluded that the minimum wage had to increase to €180 per week from €158.
Mr Farrugia says that social services are inclined to cater for those well below the poverty line but do little for those who are borderline.
But Mr Miceli insisted the Government has found money for many pro-jects of little use. “Is it possible we cannot find money to help the poor?”