Sociologist from Malta

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The need to defend universalistic welfare; The need to articulate another Europe

Today The Malta Independent reports as follows:

82,907 people are on some form of long-term social benefits, according to statistics given to The Malta Independent by the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity.

Expenditure on all social benefits totalled €405.5 million in the first half of 2013, which amounts to a 3.9% increase over the corresponding period in 2012, according to statistics published by the National Statistics office.

Some European countries have been looking into introducing a US style work-for-benefits scheme, under which the long-term unemployed will be made to perform some sort of community service in order to qualify for benefits.

No such scheme is in the pipeline for Malta, although a spokesperson for the Social Solidarity Ministry pointed out that the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) runs a similar scheme.

“The ETC regulated a scheme whereby beneficiaries have their unemployment assistance increased to 75% of the national minimum wage. The Department of Social Security just increases the benefit entitlement once informed by the ETC,” the spokesperson said.

5,336 people are currently benefitting from unemployment assistance while 7,845 are on social assistance. 3,170 single un-married parents are benefitting from assistance, the spokesperson said.

Malta’s labour participation rate continued to rise from 58.9% of the working age population in 2008 to 63.1% in 2012, but it still remains lower than the EU average of 71.8%, with both males and females contributing to this increase, the Central Bank of Malta said in its 2013 quarterly review.

The participation rate encompasses all those in the economy who are of working-age who are either in a job, or unemployed but looking for a job.

The Central Bank said that an analysis of the participation rate by educational attainment suggests that the gap between Malta and the European Union is populated mostly by individuals with a low and medium level of education, whereas the participation rate of Maltese persons with a tertiary level of education is higher than in the European Union.

In relation to the above, I believe that the question we need to ask is: Would inequality and poverty increase were such benefits not in place? Whilst I support measures to equip persons to meet today's risks and opportunities, these should not replace universalistic welfare systems. Otherwise, inequality and poverty will likely increase. To the contrary, I believe that urgent reforms such as an increase in the minimum wage can encourage more persons to enter formal employment.

In 2011, together with Ian Bugeja, I had overviewed Malta's welfare model, which was seen as having similarities and differences with other welfare models such as the Liberal,Social-Democratic, Continental and Southern European. However Malta must also keep in line with targets set by the European Union, which inturn are likely to influence Malta’s welfare model. For this reason, the call for a social and ecological Europe is an urgent demand for our times.

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