Malta’s Catholic organisations and charities have issued a call for concrete measures from the state that ensure people living in poverty are not left without the basic necessities for a dignified life.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact that the coronavirus outbreak will have on the most vulnerable members of our society. Although illness does not discriminate between people on the basis of financial, social, health or immigration status, there is little doubt that the economic fall-out of the pandemic will, and the worst affected will be the poorest and the most marginalised,” the organisations said.
With their work bringing them in daily contact with people for whom survival is already a struggle, the NGOs said the pandemic’s economic shutdown will hit hard people with mental illness or disability, people struggling with addiction, ex-prisoners, survivors of domestic violence striving to rebuild their lives, refugees, migrant workers, or large families living off a single income.
“Most earn little more than the minimum wage, which is barely enough to cover rent, food and water and electricity bills. Few will have any money put aside to carry them through a period of unemployment lasting months, or possibly longer. While some might have access to social benefits, this is not the case for all,” the NGOs said.
While the government has put in place some support services for vulnerable individuals, such as a support line and food delivery for the elderly who are unable to go shopping, as well as business measures and wage subsidies, the NGOs say these will not be sufficient to ensure that all are able to live with dignity during the coming months.
“For this to happen, it is essential that steps are taken to provide financial and material support to all who cannot afford to pay for shelter, food or medicine. Entitlement to this support and to basic services, such as medical care, should be based on need and not on other criteria, such as immigration status,” they said.
The charities are now calling for a collective act solidarity, pointing at stories of landlords reducing rent, employers offering accommodation, people helping the elderly with shopping and others cooking for the health care workers who are bravely fighting the pandemic.
“Their actions deliver a clear message: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We believe that policymakers should echo this same message of hope, by putting people at the centre and prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
“This call to action is based on our firm belief that the only equitable response to this global pandemic, which underscores the inequalities in our society, must be one based on justice and solidarity. In the words of St John Paul II, solidarity ‘is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all’.”
The NGOs are Commission for Peace and Justice, Diakonia Commission, Council for the Religious Major Superiors (KSMR), Church Homes for the Elderly, Caritas Malta, Dar Merħba Bik Foundation, Dar Hosea, Dar tal-Providenza, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Fondazzjoni ‘Paċi u Ġid’, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Peace Lab, Malta Emigrants Commission, Millenium Chapel, Paulo Freire Institute, Salesjani Dar Osanna Pia, Segretarjat Assistenza Soċjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija (SAS), Society of St Vincent de Paul, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, and the Youth Alive Foundation.