In this time of crisis, described by many as a war footing of historical significance, when the country is shutting down and preparing for the days ahead, we urge the authorities to take further concrete measures to ensure that 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.
Our work brings us in daily contact with people for whom survival is already a struggle – 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.
We appreciate that, in the days since the first case was identified, Government has put in place some support services for vulnerable individuals, like the support line and food delivery for the elderly who are unable to go shopping. It has also been announcing a series of measures to help businesses to retain staff and to support people who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, such as a temporary increase in unemployment benefit and the extension of the rent subsidy scheme.
While these initiatives are critical, it is becoming increasingly clear that such measures alone 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.
In recent weeks, we have been inspired by the many individual acts of solidarity: 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.” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)
On our part we reiterate our willingness to support the authorities to implement these services, to the best of our ability in the current circumstances.
Commission for Peace and Justice
Council for the Religious Major Superiors (KSMR)
Church Homes for the Elderly
Dar Merħba Bik Foundation
Fondazzjoni ‘Paċi u Ġid’
Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
Malta Emigrants Commission
Paulo Freire Institute
Salesjani Dar Osanna Pia
Segretarjat Assistenza Soċjali Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija (SAS)
Society of St Vincent de Paul – Malta
St Jeanne Antide Foundation
Youth Alive Foundation