It is a fact that life expectancy has increased over the years, thanks to research advancements in medical treatments as well as quality of life. According to the latest World Health Organisation data published in 2018, life expectancy for men stands at 79.6 while for women at 83.3 years. 

Elderly people are becoming a larger part of society while the number of people choosing to have children is continuously decreasing, with data just published by Eurostat showing that Malta has the lowest fertility rate across the EU. 

This recipe translates into a society characterised  by an ageing population. As a country, it is our responsibilty to cater for the elderly and provide them with a sustainable and rewarding lifestyle. The elderly are those very people who have contributed with their hard work throughout their life so that we could become a thriving society. They deserve our utmost respect and this is why we need to ensure that they live a decent life during retirement. 

According to Eurostat, one out of four pensioners are officially at risk of poverty. Here we have a situation where not only are the elderly not getting the pension and the quality of life they deserve, but many of them are also living a life just on the verge of poverty. 

This is unacceptable. In a normal functioning society, where you would have a normal functioning government, we would be striving to find ways to improve their current situation. 

When taking into consideration the effect of the cost of living as also confirmed by Caritas, over the past six years pensioners have seen the lowest increase in pensions in 30 years. 

Worryingly enough, pensioners are being faced with a 4.4 per cent increase in cost of living. The minimal increase in pensions given during the last budget – a mere €2.33  a week – is surely not enough for them to live an adequate life. 

On more than one occasion during house visits, pensioners have shared with me the difficulties they face each month to try and make ends meet. While Joseph Muscat and his clan boast an unprecedented economic boom, the elderly are facing hardship: some of them are forced to choose between buying medicine or food.

The present government not just fails to be caring, it is altogether ignoring the rights and needs of the elderly for a decent quality of life

Another worrying fact recorded by the Auditor General is that around 63,000 pensioners are still waiting for their first health  appointments. This can lead to further financial burdens on the elderly. Research from Eurostat has shown that medical care in Malta places a higher financial burden than the EU average. In 2017, 14 per cent of Maltese expressed this view, while the EU average stood at 11.2 per cent. In 2019, the perecentages have risen – a worrying fact since pensioners are more likely to be in need of medicines because of their age. 

What we have here is the perfect recipe for disaster: low pensions and a very high increase in cost of living. The present government not just fails to be caring, it is altogether ignoring the rights and needs of the elderly for a decent quality of life.

Most arrogant of all are the recent statements aimed at pensioners by a supposedly socialist Prime Minister when he blurted out, without a hint of remorse, that “If you don’t want more foreigners, say goodbye to pensions”  and “You cannot cherry pick economic policies. If you want to enjoy the meat you need to take the bone too”. 

Such statements lead one to question whether the Labour Party has abandoned its social democratic roots and now feasts on extreme capitalist ideals. Not too surprising considering that at the very core of government is a corrupt clique that daily seeks new ‘opportunities’ to engulf more and more. 

It is not too surprising then that the older generation is not on the priority list of the government. The president of the Alliance of Pensioners Organisation, Carmel Mallia, rightly stated that he is hurt, adding that “pensioners are the scapegoats of the prevailing social and economic situation”.

He speaks for the thousands of Maltese and Gozitan pensioners and for those who want a society where success is not defined by high rise concrete buildings or by how many passaports are being sold, but by the respect and value shown to one another. 

There is no doubt that government excels in the operation of its propoganda machine and tries to paint a totally different picture from reality. Not least, Labour seeks to belittle what had been done by Nationalist administrations with regard to pensions and making life better for the elderly.

When the Nationalist Party was in government,  it dedicated itself to a better quality of life for our ageing population. Social facilities for the elderly, aimed at creating a sense of community between them, were always a priority for the PN. 

For example, between 2008 and 2013, a total of 21 day centres were set up, the first dementia-friendly block was established during that legislature and for the very first time night shelters for the elderly were introduced.

If we had to look further back, we would have to mention the fact that it was a new Nationalist administration in 1987 that introduced the concept of having a Parliamentary Secretariat focusing only on the elderly. People like my colleagues John Rizzo Naudi, who was the first Parliamentary Secretary to deal with the elderly, and later Antoine Mifsud Bonnici set standards when it comes to the care for the elderly – standards that the present administration cannot even dream of reaching.

That included new facilities such as the Zammit Clapp hospital and homes for the elderly that placed the dignity and comfort of the elderly at the core of their very mission.

One of the most important incentives introduced by another Nationalist administration was  the ability for pensioners to continue working while still receiving a full pension. An increase in pension rates (including during the recession!), several pension reforms and social benefits were introduced during the 2003-2008 PN legislature. 

The Nationalist Party has and continues to have a genuine interest in care for the elderly and the most vulnerable people in society.

This government has lost its social roots as the government of the working class, of the most vulnerable. Pensioners have on average contributed 45 years to Malta and Gozo’s economy – it is high time for the Prime Minister to come up with concrete, sustainable and long-term plans in which our elderly are given back their dignity, as they so deserve. 

Instead the government should invest more in pensioners and the elderly and for instance take further concrete measures to fight loneliness experienced by many.

The government is not doing enough to give peace of mind when it comes to pensions. Therefore it is no surprise that a study by Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, established that three out of every five people are worried that they would not have an adequate income when they reach old age. Time for the government to ditch propoganda and take concrete actions.

That proves that to be caring of the elderly also means to be caring of young people who need to be sure of their own future.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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