This year, the Social Security Department commemorates the 66th year since the promulgation of two laws: the National Assistance Act and the National Insurance Act. Through these laws through which all those persons needing assistance were reached: both those who contributed to national insurance and those who did not.
1956 was an important year in the Maltese calendar where social protection is concerned. This does not mean that prior to this there was no legislation to protect those who suffered most, however through these laws more citizens had coverage. In fact, 1948 saw the introduction of the Old Age Pensions Act. This legislation provided for the payment of pensions to elderly persons who had never been in employment, but whose applicants were required to pass a means test.
The National Insurance Scheme was financed through the obligatory payment of contributions by employees, employers and the State. This scheme covered various benefits, pensions and allowances, sickness, occupational injuries and diseases, unemployment benefit, widow’s and orphans’ pension. The National Insurance Act was amended in 1965 to offer social protection to self-employed persons. That year also saw the introduction of the invalidity pension.
The National Assistance Scheme was aimed at vulnerable persons who did not pay contributions. Heads of household who were unable to work due to illness were entitled to social and medical assistance after passing the means test.
In 1987, the aforementioned laws along with that of Old Age Pensions were consolidated into one legislation. Thus, the Social Security Act was created, and this legislation guides the Department as to how social benefits are paid.
Throughout these past 66 years, particularly in the 1970s, a broad range of new assistances, benefits and pensions were introduced. Today one could say we pay benefits from a person’s birth through to when they retire and further. The most popular and widely received benefits are quite possibly the Two-Thirds Pension and the Widow’s Pension – with the latter pension now calculated on the income of the deceased husband – the introduction of the National Minimum Pension, and the introduction of the Children’s Allowance.
In later years various measures were introduced. These are still being provided to those who are entitled: the Maternity Benefit, the Disabled Child Allowance and Social Assistance which was extended to those caring for elderly family members or family members with disabilities. Each benefit or assistance was always conceived to help the most vulnerable in Maltese society thus giving everybody the opportunity to have a decent living according to present day standards.
The changes implemented within the Department of Social Security throughout the years were not only in the increase of the actual benefits but also in how the Department works. In the past all work was carried out manually, however today this is done through an automated system. The payment method has undergone a radical change. Initially, payments were made in cash, later these were made through cheques and nowadays we make direct payments into the beneficiary’s bank account. We have reached an excellent percentage of our beneficiaries, but need to reach a stage where each beneficiary receives their payment directly into their bank account. Each change is implemented in stages without unnecessary distress, especially for our beneficiaries.
As from the very beginning of the creation of the Social Security Department, there was a necessity to provide as much a personalised service as possible to the public. Therefore, throughout the years several offices across Malta and Gozo were opened so the public could be served in their locality or areas close to their residences. One must also mention that before having its offices within Palazzo Ferreria building on Republic Street, Social Security Department offices were spread around our capital city. The opening of area offices was an important step for the public to be served as much as possible, from one place for all they required.
In the past few years, the work of the Department of Social Security has also gained recognition by the International Social Security Association – ISSA. The Department was recognised in 2016, 2019 and 2022. This award is given every three years.
As the Social Security Department, we need to continue with our commitment to offer the most adequate social services. Thus, we shall endeavour to continue being of respite to the vulnerable and those most in need. A big thank you goes to all the staff for the good work they carry out, as without them the most vulnerable would not be able to have a decent life to the greatest degree possible.
This is one of a series of articles in commemoration of Social Justice Month organised by the Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights.
Grazio Barbara is Director General (Social Security), Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights.
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