Despite measures to fight poverty the number of those at risk in Malta have remained practically at the same level, at 16.7% which is a marginal drop of 0.2% over the previous year. In absolute numbers this translates to 85,797 people in Malta with an annual income of €10,893. This is the official picture of the current situation according to the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, which is an annual exercise carried out by the National Statistics Office.

Considering the sharp increase in the cost of living, the fact that those at risk of poverty remained at the same level, this might be considered a relative success. However, this argument is based on the official picture. What if the situation on the ground is such, that we are not taking a perfect snapshot? Why is such doubt being raised? This concern stems from the fact that over the last decade Malta’s population has soared by around 100,000 most of whom are third country nationals. It is a fact, that the overwhelming majority of these workers are being paid a pittance and this is having severe repercussions, not just in the labour market. Apart from skewing the employment conditions in the wrong direction, to the point that some jobs no longer offer a realistic stream of revenue for Maltese workers, like for example the tourism industry, there is also a social impact. A case in point are the living quarters of these TCNs who more often than not reside in overcrowded apartments, having to share their room if not their bed! This is happening all over the island including localities which are not normally associated with poverty.

Last month, Times of Malta flagged the case of 40 foreign workers, each paying €250 monthly to share an apartment in Sliema. Though this is undoubtedly a textbook case of poverty, the likes of which we would have not imagined up to a decade ago, it is worth asking whether cases like this are visible to the official statistics. Such concern, is even more justifiable, as it seems the authorities do not have an exact picture of the number of foreigners including migrants living in Malta. As a matter of fact, each and every police raid in locations renowned for being frequented by foreigners, results in deportations.

We have to be sure that official data is truly reflecting the situation on the ground, as otherwise we would only be fooling ourselves. We are not saying this because we have any doubts about the integrity of the NSO, but to reassure ourselves that the strategy we are using is effective.

 It is a fact that some parts of the island have become no-go areas in the wake of security concerns, squalid living conditions and overcrowded quarters. We are at a crossroad. Either take stock of the situation or decide to turn our back and adopt the approach of the so-called three wise monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.