Christmas is all about generosity, solidarity and giving a helping hand to those in need. While many relish this time of the year, those who are struggling to make ends meet more often than not have nothing to look forward to. The poor dread this time of the year as unlike the rest of the population they cannot give that special something to their loved ones or have a seasonal treat. For them, there will be no presents, nothing to look forward to.

Data released recently by the Social Policy Ministry showed that between 2013 and 2019 those at risk of poverty dropped from 24.6 per cent in 2013 to 20.1 per cent. While we have no reason to doubt these figures which predate the economic slowdown caused by Covid-19, might not tally with the situation on the ground.

In a recent report the National Audit Office recommended widening the sample of the population on which official data is based. In a report on government’s efforts to fight poverty the NAO remarked that NGOs may be experiencing peripheral poverty that is not captured in the EU data.  Indeed, it transpires that the number of people resorting to the Foodbank Lifeline Foundation at the moment is around 300, which is three times as much as in 2019. Apart from the layoffs caused in the tourism sector and the performance arts which ground to a halt due to the virus restrictions, the rise in property rental rates is one of the main culprits. There are also worrying signs that housing affordability is pushing people to the streets.

According to the NAO data collection is restricted to those living in private households in Malta and Gozo. Consequently, persons living in households or institutions, such as hospitals, old people’s homes, residential homes, faith-based institutions and boarding houses, correctional facilities, those who are homeless, migrants living in closed or open centres, and asylum seekers who have not reached the six-month residency requirement are excluded from the target population and are not eligible to participate. Yet, this methodology is perfectly in line with EU guidelines.   If government and indeed the EU want to go the extra mile in addressing poverty this loophole must be addressed.

In this context UHM Voice of the Workers cannot but subscribe to all efforts and initiatives to fight poverty being on the ground such as foodbanks, philanthropic organisations but especially trying to address the root of the issue through policies and social measures.