Interview with Malcolm Scicluna, Director (International Relations), Department of Social Security, Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity, Malta.
MISSOC: Could you tell us about the priorities of the Maltese Presidency as regards social policy?
Malcolm Scicluna: The main priority areas of the Maltese Presidency are Migration, the Single Market, Security, Social Inclusion, Europe’s Neighbourhood and Maritime.
The social agenda of the TRIO priorities include “a Union that empowers and protects all its citizens”:
- Preservation of Europe’s social model
- Investing in human capital
- Fighting poverty and social exclusion
- Protecting all citizens
- Respecting national competences & subsidiarity
- Social protection systems to provide adequate levels of protection whilst contributing to social & labour market inclusion
- Make our welfare systems and labour markets better equipped to face major social changes.
With regards to social policy the Maltese Presidency has set its priorities aiming at advancing gender equality and the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups, improving participation of women in the labour market, and combating gender-based violence.
The main theme of the Maltese Presidency in the field of employment and social policy is ‘Making Work Pay’. To this end, Malta will prepare draft Council conclusions with the aim of promoting initiatives targeting particularly unemployed persons and incentivising their return to the labour market. Consequently, this will help attract individuals back into employment, preventing labour inactivity and thus minimising the risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Equal treatment will be one of the main objectives of the Maltese Presidency in the field of social policy and employment. By addressing the lower participation of women in the labour market, the Maltese Presidency will support discussions on measures aimed at eliminating the challenges that hinder women’s economic independence. The Maltese Presidency will be the first Presidency to initiate the discussions in Council on the revision of Regulations (EC) No 883/2004 and 987/2009 on the coordination of social security systems. This will be a very challenging task for the Maltese Presidency given the tight deadlines in relation to the number of areas which will need to be negotiated in the Council working group on social questions.
As regards the EPSCO framework, the priorities in this area include; guaranteeing decent work, making work pay and supporting gender equality and social dialogue. The Maltese Presidency will also ensure that the EPSCO Council will, together with the other relevant Council formations, take forward the European Semester process.
MISSOC: Do these priorities reflect the main social challenges that Malta is facing today? Could you briefly outline these challenges?
Malcolm Scicluna: The priorities of the Maltese Presidency, to some extent, do reflect the social challenges encountered in Malta. However, we are pleased to report that during the past years there has been an extensive reform in the social sector intended to significantly address these challenges. In an effort to increase the low participation of women in the labour market, the Maltese Government is offering free child care to working couples and has been consistently introducing activation measures aimed at encouraging employment. Activation measures include the in-work benefit, which is a means-tested benefit payable to people engaged in a gainful activity and the tapering of social benefits where all beneficiaries who resume a gainful activity will continue to receive 65%, 45% and 25% of their social assistance entitlement in the first 3 years of employment. In order to promote gender equality, Maltese legislation in the social field was amended in order to remove the difference in pension rates between men and women.
MISSOC: Are major social reforms planned or underway in Malta?
Malcolm Scicluna: For the past 4 years, the Maltese government has been consistently introducing activation measures aimed at encouraging employment. The following measures have been introduced:
- Social Security Benefits:
- In-Work benefit for working couples, as well as single parents and low-earning families with children under 23 years of age where only one of the partners is gainfully occupied. Through this benefit the government continued to strengthen the concept of ‘making work pay’ by attracting non-working spouses and single parents to return to work. In the last budget, the government announced an increase in the ceiling and payment rates of the In-Work benefit for every child under 23 years of age.
- Disabled persons in receipt of a non-contributory disability pension retain the right to such pension when they re-enter the labour market.
- Social Assistance:
- All beneficiaries of Unemployment Assistance (UA), Social Assistance (SA) and Social Assistance for Single Unmarried Parents (SUP) who commence employment will continue to receive 65%, 45% and 25% of their social assistance entitlement in the first 3 years of employment. Their employers will also benefit from 25% if partaking in full-time employment or in the case of a single parent earning less than the weekly national minimum wage 12.5%, if in part-time employment of the social assistance for the first three years of employment.
- Taxation measures:
- Lower taxation for low-income earners
- Exemption from social security payments for employers in respect of disabled employees
- Labour Market Policy:
- Youth Guarantee scheme for persons under 23 years of age
- Free childcare for working couples.
MISSOC: Could you tell us something on other social security priorities of the Maltese Presidency?
Malcolm Scicluna: The Maltese Presidency endeavours to achieve significant progress in the negotiations of the proposals of the revised Regulations on the coordination of social security systems. This revision should include changes in the field of unemployment benefits, equal treatment and access to social benefits by economically inactive mobile citizens, long-term care benefits, family benefits, applicable legislation & posting, and other miscellaneous and technical Amendments. Other future proposals relate to the European Pillar of Social Rights, Work-life balance initiative, Council Conclusions on Making Work Pay and Council Conclusions on Up-Scaling of Women.
MISSOC: Thank you very much.
Malcolm Scicluna: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to present an outline of the work of the Maltese Presidency in the social sphere, and we look forward to welcoming you and all our MISSOC colleagues to the Maltese Islands between the 10th – 13th May 2017.