AGE Platform (Europe) is a network of non-profit organisations which aims to promote the interests of the 190 million senior citizens in the European Union and to raise awareness on the issues that concern them most. 

The National Association of Pensioners (NAP), which celebrates, in 2020, its 50th anniversary since its foundation, is one of the oldest NGOs in Malta concerned mostly, but not solely, with the interests of elderly people particularly on pension issues.

Among its founding members one finds stalwarts such as Philip Farrugia, Robbie Biasini, Edgar Rizzo, Joe Bugeja and Jimmy Xerri de Caro. NAP acts as a pressure group on authorities and others concerned, private or otherwise, on behalf of its members and prides itself in having no political affiliations which makes its voice even more effective.

NAP has been affiliated with the AGE Platform for a number of years and is represented in most of its task forces. NAP attended the important meeting of the general assembly of AGE in Brussels in June last year. At that meeting the assembly adopted the Manifesto for the European Elections 2019. Under the motto ‘Achieving equal rights and dignity for older persons’, the manifesto document provides recommendations to MEP candidates to help enforce older persons’ aspirations and rights.

The main aims of the manifesto are to: enhance older people’s rights through combating age-discrimination (ageism); ensure a life-course perspective on work and create inclusive labour markets; ensure adequate pension and old-age income for both men and women;

Protect the right to live and age in dignity through affordable and person-centred health and long-term care; ensure active and healthy ageing and promote well-being for all ages; enable universal access to goods, housing and services to older persons; and empower older citizens to fully participate in the social, cultural and democratic life and promote life-long learning to facilitate their active involvement in all aspects of life.

The Maltese government published in 2014 its ‘National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing 2014-2020’. This important document, which NAP, as a major player in issues concerning older persons, fully supports, is now quickly approaching the final stages of its implementation process (in 2020).

The ‘National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing’ needs to be urgently looked into and in many instances overhauled

The government should now be preparing, together with other interested organisations (including NGOs), a general assessment of the situation and a revised way forward for the next five or 10 years.  

Obviously this is a long progressive process that needs constant attention, nurturing and revision. The main questions that need to be asked now before embarking on a new study are:  Where are we? What have we achieved so far?  Where have we lacked? How have new situations impacted on the elderly? In the light of all this, what new policies need to be adopted, which old ones need to be revised or even discarded?

As with the rest of Europe, we have a large aging population. The Malta 2011 census report showed that as at December 31, 2012, nearly a quarter of the total population was 60 years and over. The report states that in Malta “population projections indicate a continuously ageing population”.

The recent phenomenon of immigration was not calculated when these projections were established. Eurostat shows that on January 1, 2018, Malta had “the largest relative increase” in population at 32.9 per cent per 1,000 residents, well ahead of the next increases in Luxembourg (+19 per cent), Sweden (+12.4 per cent), Ireland (+11.2 per cent) and Cyprus (+11 per cent). 

These recent statistics throw many of the previous projections on the population situation in Malta overboard. In these circumstances the ‘National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing’ needs to be urgently looked into and in many instances overhauled.

The NAP is, moreover, concerned with some other serious developments that are causing disquiet to older people in Malta. In its report on Pension Adequacy 2018-2060, the European Commission has identified Malta, among other member states with similar situations, with increased risk of poverty and social exclusion for those aged 65 years and over.

Moreover, the EU Country Report for 2018 at sub-paragraph 3.3. – ‘Labour market, education and social policies’ – states that in Malta “the share of the elderly over 65 years (26.1 per cent) at risk of poverty continued to increase.”  In short, we are being told not to be too complacent but to take notice of these alarming signals.  

In conclusion, we therefore urge our candidates for the European Parliamentary elections next May not to ignore such a large proportion of the Maltese population.

The stereotype of older people as frail persons aimlessly passing their last days in the village core should have long been relegated to the dustbin. Our strength is in numbers and in our determination to be heard. We have a strong voice and we aim to be heard loud and clear.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a main protagonist in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said: “I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on.” 

Had she done so the ground-breaking Universal Declaration might never have seen the light of day.   

Louis Cilia is president, National Association of Pensioners.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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