AOP responds to Picardo: ‘Poverty is the elephant in all our rooms’

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Following a statement last week from the Chief Minister reacting to the call from anti-poverty campaign group, Action on Poverty (AOP), primarily regarding private sector pensioners’ and workers’ outstanding concerns, AOP has ‘preferred to unhear the barbed attitudes emanating from No. 10 in favour of serious, balanced tones and temper instead.’

Felix Alvarez, the group’s spokesman, has expressed dismay that ‘an expectation of statesmanship and seriousness should degenerate in this way. But AOP will not enter into bun fights or throwing stink bombs into the playground. As Spokesman for the umbrella organisation that is AOP, and maintaining as is my role, a strictly non-party political position, this kind of nervous reaction from the Administration is unnecessary; and I extend my hand to the Chief Minister, in the hope that engaging in reasoned talks and negotiations based on facts, may still be possible. Because serious politics require a serious, balanced temper to the social contract that is our democracy,’ Mr. Alvarez stated.

For its part, the Private Sector Pensioners & Workers Association (PSP&WA) has categorically denied claims by the Chief Minister that it has been pressing him for every private sector pensioner to be paid £24,000 yearly. ‘This is not correct’, says the PSP&WA, ‘and misrepresents both our views and the discussions held which, as may be understood, involve complex issues, not simplistic equations for the public gallery.’

‘In fact, we have been at pains to explain to Government that a means-testing approach to pension justice would be a fair and acceptable method to rectifying where vulnerable individuals are in need of help. Whilst the CM prefers to rubbish our statements as ‘nonsense’, we prefer to talk of his Manifesto commitments, which cannot and will not be obfuscated or forgotten ‘meantime’. And we are confident the public will not be misled as to the facts, which indeed is what this is all about. For instance, Government promised the following on page 62 of its 2011 Manifesto:

‘We will set up a scheme which will facilitate the creation of new additional financial support measures for pensioners and which will be linked to average earnings. The effect will be to ensure that the standard of living of pensioners keeps up with the growth in the economy and shares in its benefits. It will not just be kept in line with inflation.’

Again, in a section entitled ‘Additional Financial Support’ on page 98 of its 2015 Manifesto, the GSLP/Liberals promised:

‘Shortly after the election, if we are returned to Government, we will be able to announce, in partnership with Community Care, a new additional financial support measure for pensioners.’

‘If the Administration is under the impression it has delivered on these promises, the contrast with the reality in the outside world of Gibraltar’s private sector pensioners could not be greater. And this is why both Administration and AOP must sit and negotiate a way forward to understanding.

‘Citizens and voters expect better of all of us,’ Mr. Alvarez commented. ‘We need to move away from confrontationist attitudes and recognise the need for discussion. We need to live up to the expectations placed before all of us by citizens, and that includes at Manifesto and Election time.

‘Economic gaps are opening up in our society. Social Security as a system in Gibraltar needs to be reformed from top to bottom to make it amenable, open, and adequate for the century we now live in. It should not be a begging bowl, but a base for the protection of all our citizens, and thus to diminish the ever more evident gulf that is growing between those benefitting from large economic opportunities, and ordinary folk.

‘AOP invites the Chief Minister and his Administration, as indeed all political players in our community, to engage meaningfully in facing the facts before us. There is no greater time lost than in failing to rectify a position. And no high enough wall exists whether at No. 10, or at GSD or Together Gibraltar HQs to prevent reality, in due course, from seeping in and having to be faced.

‘Because Poverty is the elephant in all our rooms’.