Social distribution of poverty in Malta
ANTHONY M ABELA
Report to Committee on Social Affairs, House of Parliament, Valletta
Date:  Wednesday, February 4, 1998



 

Salient findings on Social distribution of poverty in Malta, excerpts from

Abela Anthony M., "Comparing Poverty and Social Exclusion in Malta and Spain" in Poverty and Social Exclusion in the Mediterranean Area, Karima Korayem and Maria Petesidou (eds.), International Council for the Social Sciences, Comparative Research on Poverty, Bergen, 1998.
 

...  " The household financial situation is seen to be slightly more favourable for single women, men and  housewives than for single women head of households. Single people are better off than married couples, and better still than the separated or cohabiting couples. The household financial situation is superior for the higher professions than for the lower social classes or those dependent on the state. The younger cohorts are somehow better off than the middle aged or the elderly.

It seems that respondents' evaluation of their income relative to other households, is not significantly dependent on socio-demographic characteristics like gender, age, level of education, civil status, place of residence or geographical belonging. Perceptions of income differentials relative to other households of the same financial means are not very much pronounced in Malta.

reliance on (or exclusion from) external help varies significantly between districts and people's level of education ... there are pockets of people in need, widows and separated couples in particular, who seem to be excluded from the help of agencies like the Church, voluntary organisations, neighbours, friends and relatives.

deprivation or lack of modern household amenities: The lower social classes, those dependent on state welfare in particular, widows, those who strongly feel a sense of belonging to their town or village in contrast to those who think of themselves as citizens of Europe or the world, and more significantly people with a terminal secondary level of education also score high on the deprivation factor.

Cuts in spending: Economy measures are more pronounced in the rural and southern working class villages but not so much in the new suburban middle-class areas or the rural island of Gozo. As might be expected, female heads of households, the separated and widows are more likely to be frugal in their spending than single people in general, unmarried women, professional workers and the younger age group. It seems that cuts in spending are not just a matter of deprivation or poverty.

Affliction or the occurrence of social problems in the family varies significantly by place of residence, and is more likely amongst widows and those dependent on social welfare and less amongst single women and higher professionals.

Conventional social problems such as stress, serious sickness, physical abuse, domestic violence and financial difficulties are significantly related to poverty, deprivation and cuts in spending. Drug and alcohol abuse, however, do not have any significant correlation with the experience of poverty or deprivation, possibly because such phenomena are more a matter of social exclusion than economic deprivation.

Social security in the form of universal social benefits makes possible a decent standard of living for all citizens. This is not to hide the fact, however, that people on social security lack indispensable household amenities and need to take economic measures for survival.

Possession of  modern household amenities, however, differentiates between the poor and the rich. As modern society becomes increasingly dominated by information technology, it is very likely that people who do not have communication skills and access to information technology would be pushed into the periphery and risk to be excluded from society.

There is no significant difference between the rich and the poor in the use of personal social services, such as in the provision of help by professionals, voluntary workers or in respondents' access to special centres. This suggests that social problems are not the prerogative of  the materially poor. Rich and poor people alike are equally afflicted by social and family problems. It seems that care workers provide assistance to all categories of people in need. 

Conclusions

 The comparative study of poverty in Euro-Mediterranean Malta posits a relation between perceptions of economic deprivation and the experience of social exclusion.  Relative to the situation in Spain and Southern Europe, fewer people in Malta are excluded because they lack material resources though not a few think that there is unequal access to resources, housing, income and the environment in particular. Universal welfare benefits and social security meet the needs of conventional poverty whereas personalised social services address new types of poverty.

 In Malta, social exclusion is not seen to be primarily a matter of economic inequalities, inasmuch as an alienation from the family and social life. Poor people lack close ties with their extended family but find support and solidarity from neighbours who share the same socio-economic conditions. The moral condition of  the socially deprived cuts them off  from their relatives, and alienation from the extended family is accompanied by the experience of economic difficulties. The frequent interaction of well to do people with members of their family but not so much with their neighbours suggests that in Maltese society culture is reproduced within family circles and solidarity is strongest within the extended family. Closely knit family ties seem to favour  a culture of family solidarity for the well to do, but excludes deprived individuals from the social and moral support of the family.  On a micro-level, poverty in Mediterranean Malta is essentially linked to exclusion from kin and family networks.

 Rapid economic growth and a situation of social transition, however, is accompanied by higher levels of stress for having to take care of oneself and the emergence of new types of poverty. Whereas conventional types of poverty have a strong financial component, often manifest in economic deprivation, the new forms of poverty are primarily concerned with the non-economic and social dimensions of exclusion. Social exclusion in post-industrial and information society has the quality of post-materialist poverty.

 The observed shift in the concept of poverty from inadequate financial resources towards  social exclusion is accompanied by a corresponding shift in social policy from state intervention in the provision of institutional welfare in the form of social security towards targeted social work, personal social services and the social administration of joint projects by voluntary, private and State organisations. A measure of participation in the welfare society is evident in the joint collaboration in the provision of welfare services by individuals, families, Government and non-Government organisations. In a new context of  the information society, persistent structural inequalities, the observed weak family networks of the poor and the predominant ideologies of welfare posit risks of social exclusion for minorities who do not conform with the predominant culture and behaviour in society.


Components of poverty in Malta as extracted by factor analysis from the Poverty and Social Welfare Survey (Abela 1996):

1. Relative poverty:

Self-assessment on a 10-point poverty-richness scale relative to other families.
 
2. Economic deprivation:

2.1  material deprivation: lack home amenities/needs for decent living
2.2  financial deprivation: cuts in spending
 
3. Social deprivation:

3.1 social affliction: abuse, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, disability, mental health problems, stress
3.2  social exclusion: derive no assistance from voluntary organisations, family and friends
 
4. Structural deprivation:

unequal access to resources in society: employment, environment, housing, education,


Relative poverty and objective socio-economic deprivation
 

Results from multiple regression analysis

Relative poverty has a statistically significant dependence on:

economic deprivation:
 

social deprivation:
  psycho-social deprivation:
  structural deprivation:
  BUT relative poverty was not found to be significantly dependent on:
   

Dr Anthony M Abela, Department of Sociology, University of Malta

Report to: Social Affairs Committee, House of Parliament, February 11, 1998.


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