My first encounters with sociology back in the 1990s made me aware of the concept of active ageing. This was largely thanks to the late Joseph Troisi and to Marvin Formosa, who helped popularise this concept in Maltese sociology and social policy.
Since then, various developments were made in the respective fields under both Nationalist and Labour governments. However, I think it is high time that issues related to elderly persons should become mainstreamed in all aspects of policymaking.
This is for two main reasons. First, the number of elderly persons at risk of poverty in Malta is higher than the EU average. According to Eurostat, the EU rate has been relatively stable between 12 and 14 per cent between 2010 and 2017. On the other hand, the Maltese rate was 17.9 per cent in 2010, decreased to 14.3 per cent in 2013, and went up to 21.8 per cent in 2017. Hence, almost one out of every four pensioners in Malta is officially at risk of poverty.
Second, I believe that in Maltese policymaking elderly persons are often not seen as active participants in society.
I say this despite the best intentions and efforts of ministers and parliamentary secretaries responsible for elderly persons under different governments, including current chief Antonio Agius DeCelis, a gentleman who also is academically qualified in the field.
I strongly believe that politics and policy should view elderly persons as people who have a lot to give to formal and non-formal social sectors ranging from employment to family life, through their experience and knowledge, and through their wishes to be participants in everyday life.
Society is also indebted to elderly persons for their past and present work. So, let us please stop referring to such people as a ‘burden’ and let us ensure that those who wish to keep enjoying an autonomous life with full social participation should be able to do so.
Such a policy approach should focus on both economic and psycho-social benefits for elderly persons. For example, many elderly persons require stronger economic support and opportunities, but others may require better access to community initiatives.
This approach looks at social policy in terms of ‘positive’ welfare, or what Anthony Giddens dubs as the “social investment state”: one that enables people to maximise their potential.
Policy formation and implementation would involve the state, the private sector and civil society, and localised systems such as local councils and community organisations would play an active role.
In this regard, it is pertinent to note the recommendations of the AGE Platform Europe with which Malta’s National Association of Pensioners is affiliated.
It states that a truly inclusive Europe should combat ageism and age-discrimination; create inclusive labour markets; ensure adequate pension and old-age income; ensure quality and affordable healthcare; promote health and well-being; enable universal access to goods, housing and services; and empower older citizens to fully participate in the social, cultural and democratic life.
In sum, these recommendations are about the dignity of elderly persons: their right to self-determination and equal treatment.
All these demands are applicable to the Maltese context. Just to give some examples, I believe that Maltese policymaking should further enable elderly persons in all sectors to apply for and retain their employment should they wish to do so.
I also believe that elderly politicians and civil society activists should not be dubbed as ‘voices of yesterday’, just as young ones should not be dubbed tomorrow’s ones. They are all active participants in today’s public sphere.
The social needs of elderly persons who are not visible in mainstream and social media should be given more importance through on-the-ground qualitative research methods: I myself regularly witness elderly persons with health, housing and cost-of-living challenges.
Finally, a symbol of Malta’s lack of mainstreaming of active ageing is the state of our pavements. So mundane yet so important in everyday life. When will we decide to dedicate appropriate funds and professionalism to ensure proper access?
Active ageing is ripe for political consensus in Malta, not only in rhetoric but even more so in active policymaking.