‘Action on Poverty’ says Govt policy is ‘in bipolar shambles’

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‘Government’s consideration for full-time family carers, the out-of-work, the disabled, pensioners and other vulnerable sectors in our community is derisory. It verges on a bipolar shambles,’ a Spokesperson for lobbying NGO, Action on Poverty (AOP), has claimed today.

‘The pattern is visible across wide swathes of administrative policy. On the one hand, and under one thread for instance, hot on the heels of the emergence of the Gibraltar Disability Rights Federation (GDRF), government nervously discovered like never before a burning interest in bringing equality to the special needs disabled community and then, equally ‘coincidentally’, announced the setting up of an ‘office’ not under the Equality or Health ministries but under the Chief Minister himself; a move read by many as reflecting internal distrust in the handling of a growing hot potato issue.

‘In contradiction, despite this move, and as the countdown draws closer on the 2023 general elections, Government continues to defy calls by a growing number of civil society voices for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

‘The Administration’s fumbling excuses on this and other social welfare issues begin to look increasingly threadbare and desperate; sufficiently so for any onlooker to question whether the GSLP/Liberal Government has any notion at all of what it aims to do on these separate but interconnected fronts.

‘That in this day and age, and with Government’s own growing messaging of coming hard times, the Executive should continue to resist even the notion that poverty exists in Gibraltar, suggests not that they believe their own words, but rather that, as a government, they are clueless as to what to do and denial is their only policy.

‘Mr Picardo and his team should listen to Civil Society with humility and learn; and start by openly admitting there are problems ahead and thus acknowledge the importance of dialogue with AOP and others in our community to pre-empt and prepare ahead of a predicted economic downturn of consequence. Because real dialogue with Civil Society constructs solutions. Conversely, as any observer will attest, Civil Society can no longer be intimidated through political force, spin or filibustering, as some ministers may believe.

The AOP spokesperson continued by saying that ‘The one area of silent hardship that has most been coming to our attention in the past six months has been that of long-term family carers. There is a veritable small army of individuals of all ages, genders and conditions on whom the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable groups in our society rely. They are the ones whom Government takes for granted, year on year. People who, in order to care for those in need, give up incomes and entire careers, thereby losing out on accruing sufficient contributions to tax and social insurance, and so eventually finding themselves with very low savings and the likelihood of no pension or community care entitlements. They are totally ignored and left to fend for themselves, regardless. Gibraltar ‘carer allowance’ only relates to limited situations of disability and is wholly inadequate to the reality of the many carers left in precarious circumstances due to administrative abandonment.

‘It’s ironic that this should be the case during this Executive’s watch, which so often touts its concern for equality, given that it is women who are most affected in this category. Indeed, the Equality Ministry remains notably mute.

‘Carer allowance should mean precisely that: an allowance to make up for the self-less efforts carers invest, oftentimes for many years on end, into supporting the State in its duty of care to vulnerable citizens. Allowances of these sorts are normalised in most Western democracies. Here in Gibraltar no Government has as yet come anywhere near acknowledging their obligations in this respect.

‘AOP has been working on plans to widen its social welfare reforms campaign with a programme that will increase in tempo in the run-up to 2023. In the final stages as we move towards the next General Elections, we will be increasing our demands and our calls directly to the community in order to highlight the state of each of the political parties. To this end, we have already started building the networks of support across the Gibraltar community.

‘At present, the GSD has already made a clear pledge to the reform of the social security system through a firm Manifesto commitment in 2019. And we will continue to engage in talks with them.

‘In contrast, Together Gibraltar, we regret, has issued no policy of note in the interim but has opted for studied silence despite our having met with the Party as they prepared for the 2019 elections. This long and unusual gap in the narrative of a self-titled ‘progressive’ and ‘alternative’ political option on a key social question is astonishing at the very least. Nonetheless, the TG Leader used her National Day Message this year to specifically if abstractly address the issue of poverty, even if, unconvincingly, she failed to describe the measures she foresees. Less welcome is the fact that, as Leader, she expresses no urgency, two years on, in sitting round the table to discuss what her Party actually plans to provide in terms of solutions, should they by chance succeed in winning the confidence of the electorate in 2023. As with the Administration, TG’s vacuum of substantive, enumerated policy on this question can only feed the suspicion that it lacks serious political analysis, or that it fears its policy is out of sync with the face it prefers to, more superficially, promote to the public.

‘And so, as a final word, and returning to the GSLP/Liberal Administration, we note that the combined Brexit/Covid-19 phenomenon has taken its toll on what may have been planned intentions. Nonetheless, two years on, their 2019 Manifesto promises on these issues have not only failed to see the light of day, but any glimmer at all. The Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Joseph Garcia, vowed on page thirty of said Manifesto that a Living Wage Commission would address a number of issues in the context of consultation with both AOP and the Gibraltar Private Sector Workers and Pensioners Association. Today, the table will need to be widened as more and more stakeholder groups take issue on the question of social welfare management and reform.

‘In approaching Minister Garcia post the last elections to enquire as to progress and intentions in addressing welfare reforms, he could only pass the buck on to the Chief Minister. So much for Manifesto commitments and specific portfolios.

‘Action on Poverty, however, does not pass, bounce or renege on our commitments. We will continue to pursue fundamental issues of economic hardship and welfare justice truthfully and justly, maintaining an alert, non-partisan and objective view of the politics. We will remain committed, willing and able to sit around the dialogue table to negotiate with any Party or group to help reach the political solutions needed to avert the problems facing us today and into the future; because working for the common benefit of society at large is a nobler cause than partisan interests alone.’