Malta has an abnormally high rate of elderly people at risk of poverty and social exclusion when compared to other EU countries, a recent survey shows.

The local figure for people aged over 65 has shot up to 34 per cent while the EU average is 26.5 per cent, according to EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions.

“Poverty in Malta is segmented,” sociologist Mario Vassallo noted. “When you analyse the population according to the age group, you notice abnormal differences between different age groups. The working population doesn’t seem to be faring badly – it’s the people at the periphery who are.”

Malta has a very serious problem with pensions, Prof. Vassallo added. They are far too low – even high earners who used to earn, for instance, €3,000 a month, are now earning €928 a month.

People on the national minimum pension are earning between €472 and €552 a month.

“People have to pay for internet, telephone, water and electricity bills. There are also medical expenses to take into account in conjunction with support – some elderly people would need a cleaner to help them out, for instance.

“Elderly people struggling with poverty would tend to buy products of a lower quality, which may in turn induce health problems. So there is a multiplier effect.”

Prof. Vassallo called for detailed research that would lead to action.

“There is a dearth of research – we really need to start analysing things properly. The EU statistics gives us pointers but we have to delve much deeper if we want to leave any tangible improvements.”

On Monday, the National Statistics Office highlighted some of the figures, including the at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion rate which stood at 24 per cent in 2013. The material deprivation and severe material deprivation rates were 19.4 per cent and 9.5 per cent respectively.

A spokeswoman for the Social Solidarity Ministry said the statistics demonstrated that material deprivation was one of the major social problems.

While direct transfer payments could help, she said, they may not be sufficient to reduce poverty and social exclusion.

The ministry had taken a number of measures to battle poverty, introducing the children’s supplement, in-work benefit scheme for low to medium income families, and the youth guarantee giving young people the chance to re-start training, education or employment, she added.

Last month, the ministry also launched the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion.

Additional work was being done on Leap, an EU-funded outreach project which tackles major social problems and helps people out of the poverty trap by helping find employment, often through training.

She said the Qawra branch was now fully operational, with various outreach services for the community, while the Żurrieq centre was getting on track and other Leap centres were due to open this year.

Among the skills taught through Leap is budgeting. “Most of the time, the most vulnerable persons have an issue with budgeting which will eventually lead them to material deprivation,” said the spokeswoman.

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