More than three months have passed since the country registered its first COVID-19 case and all the control measures that rightfully followed. These measures were not risk-free and are having a serious effect on various sectors of the economy.

The economic slowdown has been put on top of the agenda by the government and media, second only to managing the pandemic and healthcare. There are, however, other aspects which need to be addressed. 

I would like to highlight the plight of those classes of society who have suffered as a result of the pandemic and whose situation is not being tackled sufficiently. The government has come up with an aid package for businesses with the aim of protecting jobs and to help companies survive this situation. However, the economic slowdown has badly affected many workers – particularly low-income earners who were already finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Socially vulnerable people have also been hard hit, some of whom have been given reduced working hours, pay cuts or actually made redundant.

In the meantime, they need to pay rent and other expenses including higher utility costs (due to longer periods at home). This is a critical situation that deserves attention from the government.

There is no doubt that poverty is widespread and people on the verge of poverty are increasing during this time. 

There is a clear need for social support and the government should provide benefits aimed at supporting people and families falling in these high-risk strata of our society.

Let us ensure that this pandemic does not make us forget the homeless and those who live in poverty

There are multiple initiatives the government can take to ensure these people get the help they deserve.

The government should consider rebates on water and electricity bills for socially vulnerable households. Even though the price of oil has plummeted to historic levels in the past few weeks, our energy tariffs have remained the same, which certainly makes no sense. 

The work done by foodbanks is highly commendable and their appeals for food donations should be supported as much as possible in a spirit of social solidarity.

However, the government should not feel comforted by the foodbanks’ valuable contributions and should take initiatives of its own.

The government should encourage and support our local communities in identifying and helping those who are most in need.  One such opportunity could be through our local councils, some of which have already set up support groups on a voluntary basis.

Our communities are thankfully full of active citizens who are willing to take the first step to make an idea grow into something practical and feasible. They should be supported by the government.

The focus on rebooting the economy is understandable on many levels as the effects of the slowdown are there for all to see. However, we must not forget the most vulnerable in our society, in order to focus on what could be seen as ‘the bigger picture’.

Let us ensure that this pandemic does not make us forget other vulnerable groups such as the homeless, those who live in poverty and those living on the verge of poverty.

The government is obliged to ensure that these citizens are given the necessary assistance to help them pull through this pandemic.

Poverty is a harsh reality and such situations and conditions typically accentuate it. Let us not turn a blind eye to this situation.  

Ivan Bartolo is PN spokesperson on social accommodation and fight against poverty

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