Should we be concerned with the proposed increase in the price of bread? I will leave the nutritional aspect of this issue to experts in the field. I will focus on socio-economic ramifications of the upcoming increase from 75c to 99c for a big Maltese ħobża and a corresponding 20c increase for a small one.
There is not much that the government can do to counter a global price increase in wheat other than emulate what was done by the previous administration: namely give a compensation to low-income earners and assist bakers to be more efficient.
Let us hope that the same concern on increase in prices shown by Labour and its General Workers’ Union ally when the former was in opposition is consistently articulated now that the political tables have turned.
Indeed, the increase in the price of bread must be evaluated in relation to Malta’s current inflation rate, which has increased from 1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent between April and May this year, up from 1.1 per cent in May 2017. During the past 12 months Malta witnessed increases in the price of food and non-alcoholic drinks, fuels, rent, furniture and appliances as well as hotel and restaurant services.
As regards food, Malta’s 1.6 per cent increase during May was the third highest in the EU, and consumers here pay 10 per cent more than the EU medium, higher than what consumers pay in 18 EU countries such as Germany, UK, Holland and all EU member states that joined in 2004 or after.
If we relate this to everyday life, one needn’t look at official statistics to experience such increases. It is now a known fact that consumers are paying higher utility rates due to an illegal billing method that is overcharging consumers. The price of basic food bought when eating out, from a ħobża biż-żejt to pizza, keeps increasing, as does the price of food brought for home consumption.
We also know that the importation of thousands workers without sustainable planning by the government is one main reason why rent increases are shooting upwards. This while the government wasted five years’ worth of investment in social housing.
This is not the fault of such workers: this is the fault of a government that bases its economic model on unsustainable acceleration making us increasingly dependent on a small number of sectors. Social, economic, environmental, infrastructural and transport sustainability do not seem to be on the government’s agenda.
Coupled to this, we are witnessing realities such as precarious employment, irregular and illegal economic operations, urban loneliness and people living in garages. It is true that the official rate of poverty and social exclusion has decreased in the past years, but we should also keep in mind that according to Eurostat, as at end of 2016 around 85,000 persons were at risk of poverty or social exclusion and around 19,000 were severely deprived.
In addition, the European Commission believes that pensions are not adequate for elderly persons and Eurostat figures show that one in 10 persons are not catching up with rent, loans or bills.
The current economic bubble is having collective ramifications on people’s quality of life and on the common good in favour of instant gratification and lack of foresight.
It would be much better if the government’s economic model mainstreams social impact assessments, if it focuses on better investment in community and educational development, and if it ensures economic diversity and flexibility.
Hence, while the government cannot be blamed for the global increase in the price of wheat, it cannot not shoulder its responsibilities with respect to the different forms of precariousness experienced by thousands of people.