4.1 General context
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Income, education, employment, access to social services in areas such as housing, access to health services and health literacy, the environment, as well as cultural and leisure involvement, all impact on the social inclusion prospects of young people. These pose a challenge to general well-being and can lead to poverty and social exclusion. Hence barriers include social background, dependency on welfare benefits, psycho-social situations and the cultural traditions of young people.
Other issues such as having a migrant background, LGBTIQ and drug abuse also impact on a young persons’ social inclusion prospects. Young people experiencing inequality or disengagement since their early years are more likely to become entrapped in a system of disconnection from society and its institutions.
In 2019, the Maltese Government launched the Policy on Inclusive Education in Schools: Route to Quality Inclusion in schools. The Policy is in line with the education strategy of the Ministry for Education and Employment (MEDE) since it promotes the setting of an inclusive school environment that ensures that all learners have the opportunity to obtain the necessary skills and attitudes to be active citizens and to succeed at work and in society. The Policy adopts a wide definition of inclusion which covers: learners with special needs; with different sexual orientations; from ethnic minorities and different religions; and high ability learners.
The National Inclusive Education Framework, also launched in 2019, builds upon the Policy on Inclusive Education in Schools: Route to Quality Inclusion; and strives to create clarity around the concept of inclusive education and synergy among the various services dealing with diversity issues in schools. Moreover, the themes entrenched within the framework ensure that the concept of equity is upheld in all College and School Development Plans (SDP). The SDPs are supported through the provision of specialized training to College Principals and Heads of Schools
In 2014, the Government of Malta launched the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion (2014-2024) aiming to address poverty and social exclusion through a comprehensive, long-term, results-oriented, participatory approach. The strategy is based on the values of solidarity, equality, dignity and respect for fundamental human rights and social justice. While this strategy aims to provide a policy framework that promotes the well-being and improves the quality of life for all vulnerable groups, children and young people were one of the cohorts given additional attention. This policy refers to children as all those aged 0-17 years, and to young people as all those aged 18-24 years.
While giving weight to the main varying indicators of poverty (absolute poverty and relative poverty – at-risk of poverty, material deprivation, social exclusion, and at-risk of poverty or social exclusion) and Malta’s social realities identified from the public consultations undertaken during its drafting, this strategic policy adopts the following as its working definition of poverty and social exclusion:
“People are living in poverty if their financial, material, social and personal resources preclude them from having a standard of living that is generally regarded as the average norm by the Maltese society.” (pg.17).
This strategic policy also specifies what is considered as the average norm:
“Average norm is considered as having the opportunity to exercise the right of: • developing one’s potential and capacity through education, vocational training and stable and quality employment; • accessing basic medical services in an equitable manner and enjoying a healthy environment, both of which contribute to a good quality of life; • accessing quality and sustainable social welfare services particularly social security benefits, social assistance and housing; and • participating actively in the socio-cultural life of the community.” (p.17).
The proportion of young people aged 18-24 years old and living in households at-risk of poverty or social exclusion stood at 15.0% in 2018, while 10.7% and 3.5% respectively faced material and social deprivation and severe material deprivation. Currently, the at-risk of poverty or social exclusion rate among young people (18-24 years) is the lowest among the four main target groups of the National Strategic Policy for Poverty Reduction and for Social inclusion 2014-2024, which also targets children (0-17 years), elderly persons, unemployed persons and the working poor. The at risk of poverty or social exclusion among young people primarily derives from high school absenteeism, early school leaving and lack of vocational training leading to inappropriate or insufficient skills to enter the labour market, as well as due to socio-emotional difficulties, such as addictive behaviour.
Furthermore, the National Children’s Policy presents Malta’s way forward for safeguarding and promoting the rights and general wellbeing of children. For the purposes of this policy, children have been defined as “... every human being below the age of eighteen years”, as per Article 1 of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
While placing the child at the centre of its attention, this Policy considers investment in children as a precondition for the welfare and advancement of society. Whilst acknowledging children as a specific social group which demands specialised attention, this Policy highlights the uniqueness of each child. This Policy places the child within the context of his/her personal background and wider environment, by taking into account one’s informal network of family, friends, communities and the natural and social environment. This Policy also adopts a life-course approach to wellbeing, by considering the various opportunities and challenges associated with different developmental stages and the dynamic and multiple needs experienced by children throughout their lives.
Whereas the term children refers to all those under eighteen years of age, the National Children’s Policy adopts the EU definition of young people refering to all those persons aged 13 to 30 years, also in line with the National Youth Policy Framework 2015-2020. The National Youth Policy – Towards 2020: A shared vision for the future of young people provides a comprehensive strategic framework for the well-being and development of young people. This policy also engaged in an extensive consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, and has been designed for and with young people. Investment in young people through a participatory and partnership approach as manifested in this policy, should result in realizing this policy’s aim of greater democratic participation, equitable economic and social progress for all, and inclusive change. In this regard, the inclusive scope of the strategy is central. Indeed, throughout the document, various references are made to social inclusion through the use of such terms as ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘inclusive change’. Furthermore, through the various action plans proposed under the two specific but interdependent strategies to provide ‘youthwork and services’ and ‘cross-sectoral supports’, the strategy should have far reaching impact on various sectors in society, leading to higher quality of life for all young people, including those coming from vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. In view of its wide-ranging impact, social inclusion issues are mainstreamed across the policy. In particular, the introductory chapter highlights social inclusion as one of the main ﬁelds of action in which initiatives are to be taken, leading to an action plan on social inclusion in the latter part of the policy.
Malta has a hybrid social welfare model built upon a wide range of universal and targeted benefits. This model offers ‘a set of programmes, benefits and supports designed to ensure that people do not lack the basic necessities of life’ (Mims, 2011). It also offers specific measures for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Social policy has been developed on ‘the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, participation, decentralisation, prevention, empowerment and self-reliance with a special focus on the family’ (Abela, 1999, para. 2) (Vella & Gauci, 2016).