An ongoing study being carried out by the Millennium Chapel among 300 families at risk of poverty shows that about 14 per cent have a problem with usury.

These people often owe money to their local grocer, their landlord and borrow money to cope with the bills, explained Fr Saviour Grima who runs the chapel.

He said that he came across debt that fluctuated between €500 and €500,000. Of the 300 families interviewed, nine per cent had experienced some form of abuse like domestic violence.

He was speaking during a seminar on poverty organised by the General Workers' Union. He shared his experience of poverty, as he witnessed it in the community, and showed photographs of homes of the poor - a growing reality.

Photos showed mattresses with foam bursting out, a child's desk with a seat-less chair and structurally unsafe buildings.

Government consultant on poverty Yana Mintoff Bland said that almost 32,000 people fall under the median poverty line which means they earn less than €5,709 a year. Of these people, 3,147 live alone and on less than €420 a month.

Dr Mintoff Bland is currently drawing up a national strategy against poverty and social exclusion. As part of this process, research was carried out.

This research showed that 27 per cent of households that fell below the poverty median - that is the "poorest of the poor" - were working poor which meant they worked between four and eight hours a day but remained poor, she said.

Some 10 per cent were single parents with dependent children, nine per cent were unemployed and 24.5 per cent were children.

Social Solidarity Minister Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said poverty was the cause of an effect and it was important that this was understood. There were people who abused the system but these were the minority.

"The majority are genuine," she said as she gave the example of a man who became unemployed following a back injury suffered in his 40s.

Apart from the problem of gender inequality at work, she said, there was the issue of age discrimination at work - and this contributed to poverty.

She said social indicators on poverty were "shameful" - they showed that between 2008 and 2011 poverty increased by six per cent according to Eurostat.

26 per cent of children were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. This was disturbing, she said adding that Malta had a high entry and low exit rate into poverty - which meant it was easy to fall into poverty but hard to climb out. One of the main aims of the national strategy was early intervention and timely action.

GWU general secretary Tony Zarb made reference to the Prime Minister's UN speech on poverty. The union believed that precarious work led to poverty which is why it embarked on a fight against this illegal employment. During the upcoming congress the union will put forward a motion against precarious work.

He criticized the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises - GRTU for not turning up at the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) when poverty was discussed.

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