The weaning we need 

Weaning a child is a loving step towards food independence and a wider variety of sustenance. The child is no longer dependent on its mother and can develop tastes. At some point, a child matures and the world awaits.

The same should have happened during Budget 2023, where the minister for finance should have come up with two main forms of weaning for the nation: off our cars and off government handouts.

I won’t delve into the yearly conundrum of whether the budget was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as I don’t believe that something so complex and nuanced can be reduced to being totally one or the other. What it definitely shows is that we are all becoming poorer and that we are living beyond our means, with our spending power decreasing consistently.

That is the consequence of Muscatonomics, where we let everyone do what they want for short-term profit but build in a crippling dependency on our own destruction in the long-term.

We are fighting tooth and nail to keep our usual way of life without any changes by indebting the country unashamedly, instead of admitting where we went wrong before.

It has become unsustainable to simply live as we have been living but, instead of taking tough decisions, we keep going as if there was no war, no fuel spikes and no daily price hikes in food.

What was needed were serious but important measures like a living wage, removing subsidies from petrol and fuel to let the market settle itself and, as a consequence, people would use their car less and the money saved would be invested in better public transport.

Subsidising basic water and electricity for domestic use is a timely measure but done across the board, and not distinguishing between the wasteful and the poor, means that the subsidy is totally reckless. Each sector needs to have its specific tailor-made assistance in order to avoid waste and still be of help.

Instead, the government opted for the Father Christmas approach reminiscent of an election cycle, making the country sink into a dark hole of debt. We are going to move from liquidised food to rare steak as soon as the consequences of the decision of the European Central Bank to hike interest rates hit us.

This is the first hike in the last 11 years and it will hit every European country, including us. Why the negativity? Let us spend like there is no tomorrow, shall we? We needed long term proposals to wean us off state aid but, no, the state must maintain the political equilibrium.

This fake sense of richness clashes dramatically with the 80,000 people who live in such poverty that COLA will prove of no help as they genuinely need more than a few handouts from the state.

While it is OK to cushion the weakest of us, the minister failed to come up with proposals to pull some of these 80,000 vulnerable people out of poverty.

No real strategic help, like retraining, or helping out to get them back to studying, or learning a new skill, was proposed. With this attitude my prediction is that, next year, we will have many more of them.

Instead of being slowly weaned off from state aid, these people will continue their dependent life without actually going onto the next step. Social mobility has become something of the past, unless one sucks up to the powerful and becomes dependent on their benevolence.

One’s inability to stand on one’s own legs has long since been undermined by the clientelist system.

It is time to start biting with our teeth, to chew the reality that the state has kept hidden from us. We all need to move on to substantial and yes, challenging ways of living, where we are more careful with our money and more independent.

Sandra Gauci
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday 5 November 2022