A week or so ago Joseph Muscat did the unthinkable… in an unprecedented turn of events he actually shed some light on a couple of things that he plans to include in Labour’s electoral manifesto.
The proposals included:
The setting up of small homes in the community for people with disabilities to live in after their parents pass away.
And, a trust fund system which exempts the inheritance that is left for disabled people from taxes.
A few hours after Muscat’s speech, Lawrence Gonzi felt the need to ridicule these proposals – not because they are not doable, not because they have been tried and tested, but because according to the Prime Minister, they have already been implemented by his perfect Government.
My left foot, I say!
Having a thirty year old brother with an intellectual disability, makes me rather acquainted with what’s out there for people like him, and believe me these proposals have NOT been implemented.
As a result, ageing parents like mine, live in constant fear of what will happen to their child once they are gone.
Most parents of children with disabilities would leap at the first opportunity to place their child in a small residential home which provides the necessary care and adequate standard of living.
They would give up their life savings to ensure that their son or daughter does not end up in a mental institution or a home for the elderly, which is the most likely scenario if things don’t change.
But of course the Prime Minister can ridicule the Opposition all he likes. He can also send Chris Said on a joyride to the few residential homes that already exist.
He can also brag about the 114 people that are currently being taken care of, but the sad truth is different.
According to the latest KNPD statistics, there are over 12,000 Maltese persons with some form of long term disability. More than 3000 of these are between 35 and 59 years of age, and 700 of them are intellectually disabled, making them even more vulnerable.
Now I might be crap at math but even I can figure out that within 10 to 15 years many of these will be in need of some form of supported living away from their parents’ home.
And if the Prime Minister is so set on ridiculing the Opposition’s proposals, then he must explain how he will house all these vulnerable people when in the last ten years the State has only provided 66 placements in community based homes.
Laurence Borg, is one of those parents whose time is running out. He has a son with an intellectual disability with no one else to turn to. So, together with a few other parents, he’s been knocking at every door suggesting a very viable solution – a public-private partnership scheme to provide special private residences within a legal, fiscal and social supportive framework.
Mr Borg is a mathematician by profession, and he’s done his homework well – in the grandeur scheme of things his proposal will require very little financial input from the State and will be affordable to a wide range of family financial situations. The scheme will also provide a guarantee of continuation when the parents are long gone because there are parents who are ready to sponsor one or two disabled people in return for this guarantee.
Unfortunately, this solution has so far fallen on deaf ears, and the present structures and frameworks not only do not help parents in such situations but actually penalise and demotivate those who throughout the years have, at great sacrifice, saved considerable sums to ensure a continued and adequate standard of living for the rest of their children’s lives.
Even the meager disability pension is means tested and may be lost or reduced once the disabled person inherits and starts earning interest from the funds left by their parents.
“We are not asking the Government for money,” says Laurence Borg, “we just want to be spared from hefty tax burdens so that we can help our own children even when we’re gone. For this to happen reforms are urgently required in the Social Security Act, Income Tax Act, Capital Gains Tax and succession duty law.”
Changes also need to be implemented to the way Trust Funds work. At the moment Trust Funds are extremely expensive to set up, and as far as tax goes there’s no distinction between a Trust whose beneficiary is a wealthy person, and a Trust whose beneficiary is a disabled person. At the moment no special provision exists to safeguard a disabled beneficiary from the payment of heavy taxes.
Of course, the other alternative is to leave things as they are. In other words we can keep criticizing the Opposition for not putting forward valid proposals, and then ridiculing them when they do, even if the ideas are good and doable.
And we can keep depending on charity, begging and hoping that the most vulnerable will somehow be given their God given fundamental human right of a decent living.
Over the years all the suggestions mentioned above have been presented to the Government. They’ve also been presented to the Opposition who seem to have taken them more seriously by promising to include them in their electoral manifesto. Whether they will honour their promise once they’re elected is of course a mystery, but if you ask me, at the moment, a future promise sounds better than a past packed with deaf ears.
And, just for the record, last Friday, the day before the Prime Minister went on his ridiculing spree of these proposals, I was supposed to meet Mr. Simon Busutil about these very issues.
Although they had already been presented to the Government in the past, some parents wanted to try again, this time through Simon Busutil – the supposedly newfound ear that listens to the public.
Unfortunately, Busutil’s office called a few hours before and cancelled the meeting without rescheduling.