The Times, Tuesday, 22nd September 2009
In its attempt to curtail its budgetary deficit, the Nationalist government said that it will review social benefits. Finance Minister Tonio Fenech decided to single out single mothers, using a discourse as if they are some form of enemy of the state. At best, this type of language reveals easy populist rhetoric aimed at winning votes. At worst, it reveals an anti-social direction, which is increasingly being adopted by the Nationalist government.
Mr Fenech should explain why he chose to pinpoint single mothers in his speech on reform in welfare benefits. Rather than attempting to score cheap political points, Mr Fenech should consult sociological research that clearly shows that, despite differences between members of this social category, single parents are among the most vulnerable groups in society. Making them scapegoats for the government's austerity measures will only help increase poverty, social exclusion and social stigma.
If the Nationalist government wants more single mothers in employment, then it should encourage them to do so through the provision of affordable and accessible childcare centres, flexible working hours coupled with job security, fiscal incentives and, where possible and recommendable, making absent fathers responsible for their children.
In this regard, it is pertinent to note that, according to the recently published European Commission report entitled The Provision Of Childcare Services, childcare services in Malta "are extremely limited and virtually non-existent". The absence of affordable childcare works against having more women in employment and actually increases stress on parents of young children such as single parents, who are not encouraged to enter employment.
Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party agrees that abuse in benefits should be tackled and we recognise that the global economic crisis has left an impact on government finance. But if Lawrence Gonzi and Mr Fenech have a problem regarding government finances, they should also look at unsustainable electoral promises, costly u-turns on policy measures and shameful decisions such as the discount of €3.3 million to Midi for waste dumped at sea.
Once again, we are seeing that despite its rhetoric in favour of families, the Gonzi government embarks on discriminatory policies against minority family forms such as single mothers, single fathers, same-sex couples, partners in cohabitation and people who would like to re-marry following a failed marriage. The same government also persists in retaining hardships towards thousands of families due to anti-social measures, such as the utility bills, while stubbornly refusing to look at sustainable and just alternatives.
The author, a sociologist, is spokesman for social and economic development of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party