“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped,” Hubert Humphrey said 40 years ago.

Let us take that moral test.

Over a quarter of students in inner harbour state schools are missing school for no valid reason. That excludes the students missing school for a valid reason – COVID – but not reached by alternative methods of learning. For the first time in decades, parents can expect no consequences if they don’t ensure their children go to school. Children aren’t merely being stripped of arithmetic, grammar, and a spot of French. They are being stripped of opportunity, of the future that is rightly theirs.

At the end of a summer of contented social proximity, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control flagged Malta as a country causing them “high concern” as rates of COVID infection shot up. Most of the afflicted were residents in old people’s homes. It is simplistic to point at some single cause. But public administration cannot be acquitted either. The government’s response was woefully inadequate, indifferent. The survivors continue to live in fear and are made to feel guilty for their determination to live.

That’s quite apart from the tens of thousands of elderly people or people with mobility problems living in isolation in their homes, beyond the help or care of ambivalent authorities.

As another prisoner dies in mysterious circumstances, new light is thrown on the tin-pot regime in Kordin. The minister responsible denied the existence of a torture chair, even as he confirmed the chair he denied existed, had been used. Only once. In a fit of mad public relations, the prison director went on TV this week to defend his ‘style’ describing 10-foot monsters rushing madly at him wielding bloody knives. He has 800 of these to manage, so he’ll be excused if he borrows disciplinary measures from the manual of the Spanish Inquisition.

People in prison have mostly committed crimes. But it is not only criminals that are imprisoned here. Hundreds of people are kept in indefinite detention for the crime of being black and wanting to escape civil war and depravation in their home countries. The punishment is consistently ruled excessive by the courts but the government insists there is no other way but chains for those who make it ashore.

It would be perverse to describe these forgotten bodies as lucky but, at least, their souls still cling precariously to them. Their brethren were allowed to drown in the Mediterranean and many others faced their fate back in the sands of the Sahara from which they had tried to escape.

Socially, culturally, economically and environmentally, we are measuring new and growing inequalities- Manuel Delia

There are black people living among us outside the false imprisonment of indefinite detention. Discrimination and prejudice are pervasive. Exploitation at work, Dickensian living conditions, unfair and unlawful dismissals, hostility at every turn.

Again, it is simplistic to point to a simple cause or to a single source of a very complex problem. But the inexistence of any integration policy to speak of and the flouting of fundamental rights at sea and on land are the output of ministers’ desks.

The migrant underclass works mostly on precarious terms, which take us back to the industrial revolution. They show up at the roadside meat markets to sell their labour for the day. If they haven’t been picked up by 8am, they’ll take any work at any price or there isn’t going to be any supper.

Jobs do not need to be so thinly tethered to fit the definition of precariousness. Flexibility is desirable but febrile insecurity is unhealthy. We should have outgrown the sort of uncertainty that prevents people from planning to own a home. The gap between ever-higher property prices for ever-poorer quality properties covered by impossible mortgages predicated on unpredictable employment prospects yawns ever wider.

Our towns, particularly the inner harbour areas, are now inhabited by a growing number of socially disadvantaged and economically deprived communities. Their fate is made worse by a regression in education and a cultural starvation, which COVID has changed from a perceptible disadvantage into a devastating drought.

When this description sounds like scorched earth, it encourages people to dismiss it as an exaggeration or hyperbolic melodrama. That’s regrettable. But, perhaps, it is enough to say that it will be hard to find anyone to agree these are ‘the best of times’.

COVID has accelerated degeneracy but it hasn’t created it. Nowhere is this better represented than in the environmental erosion of our urban spaces. The shade of trees makes way for the glare of the scorching light on wider, more dangerous, more polluting roads. The character of neighbourhoods is scarred by a soulless concrete modernity that seems to mock the virtue of beauty while people who live in the shadow of these cement scarecrows mourn the life they vaguely remember.

Socially, culturally, economically and environmentally, we are measuring new and growing inequalities. We do speak about these issues but as separate and distinct silos.

It is time to start speaking again of those who fall behind. The ruling party is absorbed by its North Korean propaganda where nothing but the genuine hyperbole of perfection can be betrayed by the official discourse. The opposition party is still finding its feet.

The rest of us need to work out a new deal. We start by talking. We start by denouncing the root causes of this growing malaise. We start by taking the red pill and wake up from the illusion of perfection. Welcome to the desert of the real.

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