The editorial ‘Time to reform welfare politics’ called for a reform that recognises recent changes in our economy and society.

While I am a firm believer in the need for constant reform, I dispute the argument that Malta’s social welfare policies are a relic and no longer fit for purpose. The European Commission’s Country Report 2020 argues that “the Social Scoreboard supporting the European Pillar of Social Rights points to a relatively good performance of Malta”.

The Ministry for Social Justice and Solidarity, the Family and Children’s Rights is engaged in developing A Social Vision for Malta 2035. A series of pre-consultation initiatives with myriad stakeholders have been undertaken to provide input towards the development of this vision, which will strengthen social resilience and attenuate emerging and future risks. 

The ministry is also actively working on a plan of action to implement the EU’s Children’s Guarantee as well as preparing two reports, one about homelessness and another about the drugs problem. This is testament to our constant efforts to address the most challenging social issues.

Our social policy is constantly evolving, focusing on early intervention and tackling problems at their root source, to create paths to greater self-sufficiency and resilience.

The fact that, despite the COVID pandemic, the share of the population at risk of poverty or social exclusion has declined demonstrates the resilience of the current system as well as the effectiveness of the additional social measures introduced in these last two years.

This year, the government is expected to have spent some €1.27bn on social benefits, pensions and social services. This is nearly double that of a decade ago.

In the provision of social services, the government actively engages with NGOs through the funding of public social partnerships. Expenditure in this sector has quadrupled since 2013 to €39.4 million (when one excludes the disability sector).

I dispute the argument that Malta’s social welfare policies are a relic- Mark Musu'

The editorial refers to large employment and wage disparities. There has been a lot of talk about this but much of it is uninformed. The most recent EU statistics (relating to 2018) show that the dispersion ratio of gross monthly earnings in Malta was 4.3 per cent, the best in the EU.

As for the editorial’s “army of low-paid workers”, EU data show that the proportion of low-wage earners in Malta is almost the same as the EU average. Even Germany and Ireland had a higher percentage. Our median gross hourly earnings, in terms of Purchasing Power Standards, are comparable to Italy and ahead of Spain.

This is not to deny that we do have precarious jobs or that we do not need to do anything about them. But exaggerations do not get us anywhere.

Employment remains the bedrock of our economic and social policy. We are proud of the success of our labour-activation measures, which have seen our employment rate rise from one of the lowest in the EU to one of the highest. For instance, 80 per cent of those who benefited from the tapering of benefits scheme remained in employment at the end of the tapering period.

We are equally proud of measures, such as maternity leave and benefits, child credits and removal of general discrimination, which have contributed, together with the free childcare scheme, to an army of working women – up by 11 percentage points over the last six years.

These and other measures have drastically reduced benefit dependency by enabling people to earn a living. Since 2013, we have seen a 45 per cent reduction in persons on social assistance and a 92 per cent reduction in persons on unemployment assistance.

We are also proud of the reforms in the carers allowances and the disability assistances, now being given without means-testing if approved through medical evaluation.

Not to mention the improvements to our pension system. According to a Central Bank study, the increase in the minimum pension was nearly twice that required to keep pace with the increase in prices of the expenditure basket of pensioners.

The editorial rightly points out there is no ideal solution to reducing poverty rates but we are trying and generally succeeding. Quoting again the commission’s Country Report 2020: “Malta’s rate of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion (19 per cent) is below the EU average (21.9 per cent) and has been steadily decreasing in recent years.”

All this does not mean there is not more work to be done or that the social welfare net does not need to be updated. But that is different from claiming that the system is so antiquated that it should be consigned to the dustbin. Far from it.

Mark Musu’, permanent secretary, Ministry for Social Justice and Solidarity

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