‘We must decide whether we are going to continue being greedy’ – Prof. Andrew Azzopardi
“We need to bring back ethical conduct to guide the way we live together”. These words were spoken by Prof. Andrew Azzopardi, the Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, during an interview with Voice of the Workers on the topic of poverty in Malta.
Poverty in Malta is a reality. In a neo-liberal society, where people put themselves first, where everything has a price and the concepts of community and collegiality have become secondary, there is always poverty, because poverty is not simply the result of not having money but is also what happens when there is a lack of training and education.
Prof. Azzopardi explained that the elderly are the people within society most affected by poverty; children too because they depend on the adults who take care of them, as well as people who lack an education, other than primary level education, and would have dropped out of the education system and those who have a history of poverty, of criminality and other social problems that they have inherited over time.
Asked what measures or initiatives can be taken to reduce and, finally, eradicate, poverty Prof. Azzopardi said that we would need to decide “whether we will continue to be greedy or not”. He said that if we are going to continue to be the type of society where what counts, above all else, is one’s advancement, (sometimes at someone else’s cost), then the problem will remain.
There are a number of systems that could help mitigate poverty, such as an increase in pensions, better unemployment benefits, more training schemes, improved education systems, increase in the minimum wage, better working conditions and increased action against precarious working conditions.
At the end of the day, however, said Prof. Azzopardi, we need to heed a fundamental principle – we need to bring back ethical conduct; if we are not going to care about what we do and how we live, we will become oblivious to others’ needs. “No measure will work if we do not accept responsibility for each other”, said Prof. Azzopardi.
The Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing at the University of Malta said that one needs to be careful when talking about this subject in a context of an economy that is doing well. “It is just as well saying that we have a surplus and that the economy is growing but another measure of a good economy is that it is spread across all levels of society”, said Prof. Azzopardi.
He said that when we joined the European Union and more markets opened up, barriers to commerce and business came down and many price controls were removed, so we are now living in a society where what is important is money in hand and we do not care about our neighbour who may be in dire straits.
What is the state’s role? The state needs to bring back morality and ethics in all we do. Then we will start to understand how wealth can really be distributed. Prof. Azzopardi brought up the example of a specialist who takes €80 for a few minutes with a child of a single mother. “What is the ethics of that?”, asked Prof. Azzopardi. He said that health specialists need to realise that they should not charge these kinds these fees to those who are vulnerable and living on the margins of society.
The economy has grown but the state has diminished and morality has been put away on a shelf because it is convenient to ignore ethics. Therefore, the state needs to create better conditions so that the public realises that no one is alone and we need one another to live with a sense of serenity.