A lifetime of hard work should be followed up with an adequate pension and a good quality of life. Much has been said about the need to build upon our pension system, while guaranteeing it for future generations. However, not enough has been said about the quality of life that awaits older persons who are currently retired or who are on their way there.
An adequate pension is no guarantee of a happy life in one’s old age, as Malta is undergoing radical change and the landscape around us is drastically shifting.
There is a certain irony to the notion that we are sacrificing the very characteristics which make Malta and Gozo an excellent place to retire in, so as to protect our pension system for future generations.
In Malta and Gozo we enjoy a safe and community-oriented island society, where traditionally we have taken care of our older relatives and kept them involved in various aspects of our lives in a productive capacity, where they look after grandchildren and contribute and participate in community life.
Our islands are a competitive and wonderful place for expatriates to retire in, and the proof is in the pudding, with many having moved here over the past few decades.
Yet, for how much longer will Malta and Gozo retain their attractiveness to older people, both local and foreign, as we face increasing challenges which particularly affect them? The economic argument that we need to build over our heritage and environment to sustain our pensions is an exercise in tunnel vision.
The Democratic Party recognises that ensuring the well-being of older people is not limited to pensions alone, but is also a question of quality of life.
Will we be able to take our grandchildren into the familiar landscape and cherish the environment that our Constitution so proudly defines in article 9(2), or will we only be able to take them to concrete parks and a less green countryside?
What kind of quality of life can one expect, when streets are not liveable as they are suffocated by traffic, pavements are blocked with tables and chairs, or when construction machinery causes noise, dust, discomfort, and road blocks? What will happen to older people as all familiar points of reference are destroyed, and our very identity undermined for purely commercial interests?
What will we be handing over to future generations, except the spoiled air, increasingly scarce water supplies, an ever skyrocketing cost of living and the breakdown of the community?
The pension system is suffering as a direct result of cronyism and political patronage
Integral to a happy retirement is timely access to services and healthcare, and yet with the population increase sold as an excuse to prop up pensions, our public services, including public transport, are increasingly coming under strain.
Aside from longer waiting times, we are facing the alienation of older people through the modernisation of services without the corresponding accessibility. Digitalisation is crucial for Malta to move forward in the world, but it must be carried out in a respectful manner which does not leave older people behind, unable to access basic services.
Our pensioners are suffering from age discrimination, increasingly excluded from the workplace, the community and from the country they grew up in.
All of this and more is why Democratic Party’s MEP candidates are looking to the proposals and recommendations of AGE Platform Europe, which is partnered with Malta’s own pensioners’ association.
AGE Platform Europe recognises that to protect older people, we need to look at the big picture in a holistic fashion. We must ensure that economic progress in Malta does not come at the expense of older people.
The Democratic Party has concluded that protecting older people requires a three-tiered approach. The first of these is to protect our nation’s identity, which is linked to our sense of community and belonging.
On the other hand, we are also committed to have a sustainable pension reform which determines a realistic minimum living pension and which does not hide behind the excuses of a selfish and destructive economic rampage to support the government’s short-term financing.
Currently, Malta is losing about €725 million a year to corruption, which is almost the entire budget allocated to the elderly (€735m). The pension system is therefore suffering as a direct result of cronyism and political patronage. There are those who are lining their pockets while throwing away public land. We do not need an economic model addicted to unrestrained growth so as to protect our pensions, especially if it reduces our quality of life.
Finally, the Democratic Party also believes in the concept of active ageing, whereby age is seen not as an obstacle or as a burden, but as an opportunity. As individuals grow older, they face different challenges but also new doors are opened. They become available to commit their time and resources outside of the workplace, such as towards family, community organisations or other sectors.
Remaining connected ensures that individuals are kept active and healthy in our society. We thereby ensure that they are not left behind or marginalized. Age must not be seen as an excuse to exclude older people from contributing to society. As the economy develops, consideration must continuously be given to older people and their needs.
The Democratic Party’s three-pronged approach will not only protect the quality of life and well-being of older people, while also protecting the pensions system, but it will do so without sacrificing the characteristics that make Malta and Gozo the country that we know and love. We must proactively build up our community, rather than weaken it or sell it off, to the benefit of the few.
Let us nurture our country, so that we may pass it on to future generations with a sense of continuity.
Godfrey Farrugia is leader of the Democratic Party.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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