Barbed exchanges between CM and poverty pressure group
The Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and pressure group Action for Poverty yesterday clashed over the Government’s approach to the issue of poverty.
In the first salvo, the Action for Poverty group said it took the “unprecedented step” of ending a meeting owing to the “unsympathetic” attitude of Mr Picardo.
But in hitting back Mr Picardo said the GSLP/Liberal Government has done more to curb poverty in Gibraltar than any member of Action for Poverty.
Describing the pressure group’s statement as “utter nonsense”, Mr Picardo said: “Our action has seen the minimum wage increase more than ever in our history.”
“We have - for the first time ever - supported Community Care providing at least the minimum wage to all pensioners.”
“We have shown real, human understanding of the issues facing members of our community,” he added.
Additionally, Mr Picardo said the AOP group has fractureed because the arguments that is has put are not based on reality but based on an agenda which is not straightforward but clearly designed to politicise the hardship that some are experiencing.
In this regard, Mr Picardo highlighted that the Divorced Women's Association has already left AOP which is an umbrella organisation comprising the Private Sector Pensioners and Workers Association, Unite the Union, and Equality Rights Group.
Mr Picardo therefore insisted: “It is not fair to play with people's emotions and it is not fair to attack a Government that has done more than any other.”
“We have invested more in working people than ever before and the AOP statement will crash against the reality of what we have done when the time comes for people to judge our political actions.”
“Of course people want more and we want to do more, but there is no government in the world than can deliver everything that everyone wants - in particular public sector, non-contributory pensions to private sector workers who have chosen not contributed to any pension scheme.”
“Let's be clear, that is what this is about. In my last meeting with AOP they were asking me to pay every private sector pensioner a pension of at least £24,000. That is what they, in particular the Private Pensioners Association, want.”
Mr Picardo said this was an undeliverable and illegitimate claim which underlies the group’s attack on him.
“I am confident that the electorate will see through this transparent attack. I invite AOP to take a more realistic and less pugilistic approach."
But according to Action for Poverty Mr Picardo “refuses to listen to the reality around him” in respect of the “poverty in our midst”.
“This, at a time when he himself is expecting a substantial budget surplus in the coming financial year, a surplus that gives government room to settle injustices,” the group said.
“The Private Sector Pensioners and Workers Association is not demanding hand-outs. It is not demanding privileged treatment. It fully recognises that means-testing claims can be a fair approach to Social Security.”
“But we consider it reasonable for the elderly, and especially those who have a less dignified existence in our community, to be listened to not just be met in a brick wall of preconceptions by Government, and for it to ‘man up’ and admit the existence of poverty in our midst.”
“That admission would not be failure. Instead, it would be the sign that the Administration deserves our trust in a climate where the rich are getting richer and room for the less well-off in our society is getting scarcer and scarcer.”
“While fiscal and other facilities of varying kinds are being doled out to the more fortunate among us, the vulnerable, it appears, are being increasingly uninvited to the feast.”
Action on Poverty said it will step up its work to highlight the needs and demands of the less well-off in society.