I keenly followed Xarabank’s debate last Friday regarding poverty and expenditure. The monthly basket of food presented costed €954 monthly. I will not go into analysing whether that is feasible even for the normal working class/lower middle class income yet, but at a glance my impression is that that expenditure is A LOT for an amount of single income households. The assumption here is that in a normal household both spouses would work, thus not allowing for emergencies, single parent households, bad times etc. So, in other words, the expectation is for people to live on two incomes.
What fascinated me during the Xarabank debate were comments from some notorious right wing leaners, saying that the Caritas shopping basket was too lavish. The appropriate reply from Caritas was, that whatever was put in that basket, were the basic requirements in order to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle, through adequate nutrition.
Three things come to mind right now:
- Most people who are on minimum wage or relief benefits, usually forfeit high protein foods such as meat and fish, thus relying on high carb food. So much so, the Eurobarometer’s scale of poverty is usually dependant on how much meat household include in their weekly meal plan.
- Access to fresh produce is limited, since bulk buying preserved and additive laden food is cheaper. Fresh produce can include alternate sources of proteins such as beans as well as vegetables which are a good source of healthy vitamins.
- A running gag among newlyweds going through hard ships is that they go through times of eating ‘only noodles’ to save up.
- The EU aid in the form of food given at various local communities, quite too often, rice, pasta, crackers and preserves. Very healthy.
I can imagine it being acceptable for a couple of newlyweds to go through a month or two of eating only noodles. Perhaps because one of them lost a job and they have to scrimp and save until the unfortunate spouse finds a job. Or because there is a major expense coming up. Whilst unhealthy, for a month or so, that is ok.
What is unacceptable is the expectation that a family of four, with children who definitely need to be properly fed and nourished for their own growth, are expected to live on an unbalanced diet. One reason why people in poverty quite often appear to be ‘fat’ is because they are eating too much carbohydrate rich foods, and less proteins and less fresh vegetables and fruits.
Now let’s go back to another comment. The usual manicure comment. Il-‘kapriċċ’ – the treat that people have every so often. Because single mothers spend their money on nail arts – the old age shame. I am not condoning the excessive spending on extravagance, but we need to focus on the original meaning of the Maltese word ‘kapriċċ’ – an occasional treat in which to indulge oneself as a break from hardships. It is unreasonable, physically and psychologically unhealthy to expect that a family of four on minimum wage should live eternally on noodles, butter and under-nutritious food, whilst perpetually denying themselves of the occasional treat, such as a trip to the cinema, a beauty treatment etc. Humans have the right to a good and enjoyable quality of life.
People at the lower end spectrum of salary earnings will remain. There will always be people who are unable to work for their money, or learn further skills to increase their earnings. There will always be a need for someone to do low income jobs. It economically unfeasible to expect a society where everyone graduates with flying colours from university in order to afford a decent living. People on lower salaries need to feel safe in knowing that they will have a good quality of life regardless of their income. The cost of living needs to be accessible to everyone.
What are we going to do about it?
Anna Azzopardi, ADŻ Malta Green Youth General Secretary