On Saturday we will be votingfor our representatives in the European Parliament and for our representatives in the local councils. But we will also vote on bread and butter issues.

While Joseph Muscat and his ministers boast of surpluses, true or imaginative, international agencies and local experts remind us that these are not the best of times for huge sections of our population.

A recent study by the Faculty of Social Well-being of the University of Malta revealed very worrying statistics about what your editorial (May 10) rightly described as “the epidemic of loneliness”.

How can it be that a country renowned for its hospitality leaves such a major part of its population lonely? The study reveals that 84,000 persons are preoccupied about what they earn; that 75,000 persons do not have anyone to phone; that at least 10 per cent do not feel positive about their life.

Tens of thousands of Maltese are conscious that they are living in solitude. This is an epidemic which will only be cured if we go back to our roots when the family united us and when we cared about each other. Especially about our elderly and those most vulnerable.

The present government should follow those European countries who are investing in the family

Loneliness is not the only problem so many Maltese are facing. A study by the International Monetary Fund revealed that vulnerable groups like single women with children, low-income tenants and the elderly are experiencing rising risks of falling into relative poverty.

European statistics indicate that over 40,000 Maltese citizens are unable to make ends meet. A quarter of our pensioners, that is about 15,000 pensioners are at risk of poverty. As are 5.1 per cent of young people in work (aged 18-24) at risk of poverty.

The increase in Malta’s minimum wage this year was the lowest in the European Union. With inflation eating the paltry rise in wages, and with food prices increasing more than double the rate of inflation, those with minimum wages are bound to suffer.

There are over 3,000 persons or families awaiting social housing. A figure which is bound to increase because there are more new applicants than families awarded social housing. And also because since the cost of new buildings is rocketing, as are rents, it will be impossible for persons or families with a low income to buy or rent.

The European Commission was right when in its recent report about Malta stated that the buoyant housing market was a key driver of current economic growth, noting that while price hikes are expected to continue “if recent trends continue they may lead to potential macro-financial imbalances”.

These are the bread and butter problems that the Maltese people are facing and for which this government does not seem to have solutions.  Except the importation of foreign workers who according to our Prime Minister are a must if we want to secure our pensions.

Instead of wasting millions on positions of trust, on ‘jobs for the boys’, on a spending sprees to allure voters to the Labour Party for the forthcoming elections, the present government should follow those European countries who are investing in the family.

The slogan “the best of times” is definitely excellent for those who are raking in  tens of thousands from their privileged positions but it is an insult to the pockets of new poverty, to the tens of thousands who cannot make both ends meet. For those living in poverty or at risk of poverty.

Joe Zahra is a former editor of the Nationalist Party daily In-Nazzjon Tag─žna.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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