Disability has been turned into a currency

Our community is once again in turmoil following the latest revelations about the disability benefits racket. The Vitals scandal springs to mind, wherein a national system meant to look after the vulnerable was twisted towards profit at the expense of those in need of care.

However, there is something particularly perverse about this latest travesty, even though we have had weekly scandals for as long as we can remember. This time, the very concept of disability has become commodified and exploited.

Disability has been demeaned and belittled, turned into a currency, its image manipulated for illicit financial gain.

To grasp the gravity of the situation, one might seek the perspective of families with loved ones suffering from disabilities or conditions such as spina bifida or lupus – a lifelong challenge. Is it not shameful that those who really need help sometimes have to fight the system to get what they need while people faking an illness were given benefits?

The biggest victims in this benefits racket are the very individuals entrusted by the public to champion the rights of the most vulnerable: the disabled. This transgression occurred under the banner of a party which, in its statutes, proudly declares its commitment to an inclusive society and to upholding social-democratic principles.

Specifically, Labour identifies itself as a party of progressive thinkers who aim to create a society that not only provides for everyone but also measures its strength by how it uplifts its most fragile members. The recent revelations paint a different picture. They hint at a party and system that has seemingly lost its way, where conditions as dire as epilepsy can be mimicked for profit, trivialising the struggles of genuine sufferers.

This episode, as usual, also raises significant concerns about governance and oversight. One hopes that this latest scandal might serve as a wake-up call. This offensive form of theft hits at the heart of our national dignity and the compassion we are supposedly proud to boast about. Even as the authorities promise to look into the matter, their own credibility is already suspect, in a country full of political appointments and connections. How can the Maltese people trust internal reviews when the same bodies meant to safeguard the public interest appear compromised?

It has become painfully clear that exploiting genuine pain for financial gain is not beneath the powers that be and the powers that be control our institutions.

Our politicians are happy to say the institutions are independent when they control them but the second the police actually do something they make a fuss. So, are the institutions really going to do their job? Apparently, they are only doing their job if, like the new standards commissioner, they see nothing, hear nothing and do nothing.

Now, more than ever, the Maltese community must have accountability. The desperate need for accountability grows by the day, one scandal after another. A thorough, unbiased investigation is essential, ensuring that no aspect of this crime remains obscured.

Relying on promises of thoroughness is no longer satisfactory. This is a defining moment for the current administration and its institutions. Their response will determine whether they can restore trust and truly honour their commitment to the chronically ill and disabled.

The Maltese and Gozitan people deserve nothing less.

Sandra Gauci
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Times of Malta – Sunday 17 September 2023