Nationalist spokesperson for Finance Tonio Fenech is criticizing the Labour Government for creating ‘social dependence’. In the meantime, Labour’s Finance Minister Edward Scicluna has gone on the defensive and joined the ‘dependency’ discourse bandwagon.
The Labour Government has so far managed to reconcile discourses and respective policies which are ideologically contradictory – ranging from neo-liberalism to socialism - consolidating its electoral support in the process. This could be a sign of the construction of a new hegemony, or paradoxically, this could ultimately implode.
In the last budget, Labour added a dose of active labour market measures, as well as conditional benefits, but not at the expense of otherwise universalistic welfare benefits.
The government extended welfare for example through universal childcare schemes – a most welcome policy - whilst weakening the progressivity of income tax, which could have repercussions in terms of fiscal sustainability.
Does the ‘dependency’ discourse represent a neo-liberal turn in Labour’s social policies related to welfare benefits? And is the lack of legislation on precarious employment related to this? I hope not.
Hopefully, what Labour means by reducing ‘dependency’ is making ‘work pay’ by encouraging people to take up employment through active policy measures, but not at the expense of existing welfare. Indeed, a universalistic welfare state can co-exist with a strong and sustainable economy.
My appeal to the Government is not to replicate proposals of Malta’s right-wing forces, who want a much weaker welfare state. Let us not forget that in the past decades, Malta’s welfare state has helped foster relative stability and has helped avoid massive poverty.
Our Southern European neighbours know something about the dismantling of welfare.